It was not long ago that my fellow Ports of the Virgin Islands- Charlotte Amalie task force member Pash Daswani and I met with you in your offices to discuss Tip Top and the ongoing project. Navine Sakhrani, VP of the India Association, was also in attendance.
During that meeting you indicated that the project was very behind deadline and that if the first block was not completed by June 30, you would move to terminate the contract. You also indicated that Governor Mapp was deeply unhappy with the seeming lack of progress. In fact, in our last task force meeting the Governor actually said if the first block was not completed by June 30, it would be a trigger for termination. All the task force members present stated that it was clear this contractor simply lacked the resources to get the job done. The evidence to that effect is overwhelming and unimpeachable.
During our meeting with you at Public Works we told you that the Main Street business community was vehemently opposed to daytime work , particularly with this contractor. Pash and the Vice President of the India Association also reiterated how deeply upset their membership was with that lack of progress and that they totally opposed daytime work being allowed in violation of the contract. They felt it would destroy many businesses and they told you so. They also spoke of members of the India Association whose businesses have suffered terribly on the first block as a result of the pace of the construction and total lack of urgency shown by the contractor.
Despite our pleas and a strong letter from Maria Hodge representing the Chamber, you allowed work to proceed during the day. Even with this handicap, Tip Top did not complete the first block per the deadline. The block is a mess. The road is not paved. There are nights where not a soul is on the job.
Is this how you intend for the project to proceed over a period of many years? This is an approach that will completely destroy the historic district and the viability of countless businesses. It is an approach that will severely hurt thousands of Virgin Islanders whose job and livelihood are dependent on the district, This is an approach that will lead to diminishing tax collection for the government and further economic hardship for Virgin Islanders. Businesses operating in the historic district have suffered enough! It’s time for the government to restore its credibility by bringing in a contractor who will complete this infrastructure project on a timely basis.
Commissioner, that you would give the contractor extra time is deeply troubling. Your action undermines public trust by providing unfair handicaps to a contractor that deserves none. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) contract is crystal clear that this project was priced so that the work could be done at night. You moved the goal post and I think it doesn’t show good faith.
The task force members would all like to know what the status is with the project and what your intentions are with respect to the contractor, given that the deadline was missed, and your assurance of a course of action to be taken in the event Tip Top failed to complete the first block by June 30.
The business community views daytime work with this contractor as a serious and catastrophic threat to the life blood and existence of the businesses operating in the district. We will leave no stone unturned in opposing this. This is a fight for our survival and we take it very seriously.
We would greatly appreciate your alleviating our concerns by informing the task force members of your intentions, and as importantly, honoring your verbal pledge given at the last task force meeting, and in our private meeting at your office to take constructive action and move to terminate.
Editor’s note: Filippo Cassinelli runs A.H. Riise Mall on St. Thomas, which has been in his family since 1928.