When it comes to tourism, the destination is the problem, not V.I. Port Authority fees, board member Gordon Finch said Wednesday at a meeting of the agency’s board at the Battery on St. John.
“The Virgin Islands is in the top 10 murder capital of the world,” Finch said, adding that the territory came in at number eight.
Later Finch said that the homicide problem is one deterrent to the territory as a tourist destination, but that in particular, St. Croix has other problems that make it unappealing to visitors.
He said the island wasn’t clean and the economic downturn, particularly following the announcement that the Hovensa refinery was closing, means that restaurants have closed.
“St. Croix is depressed and it’s getting worse,” Finch said.
He said that the Port Authority doesn’t charge the cruise ships a “single dime” to tie up at Frederiksted Pier, so statements that the cruise ships don’t visit St. Croix because the fees are too high aren’t true.
“Where are the cruise ships? The cruise ships aren’t coming,” Finch said.
And he said that if the Port Authority removed landing fees at Henry E. Rohlsen Airport on St. Croix, it wouldn’t convince more airlines to fly there.
“It’s about the destination and whether the destination is a calling card,” he said.
His remarks prompted a slightly testy rebuttal from Tourism Commissioner Beverly Nicholson-Doty, who also sits on the board. She said that cruise ships were repositioned during the summer, which is why none have called. However, she said that the number of ships calling on St. Croix will increase slightly in 2013.
The Port Authority Board also agreed to ask the Federal Aviation Administration to extend the date for total closure of the Anguilla landfill on St. Croix until 2020. The most recent closure date was 2016. Additionally, all garbage delivered to the landfill will be wrapped and baled after Aug. 31.
Port Authority Interim Director Don Mills said during a break in the meeting that the wrapped and baled garbage will be used for “sloping” when the landfill is capped.
He said that the agency expects the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to file a consent decree concerning the Anguilla landfill on or before Aug. 31.
In discussing the Port Authority’s financial picture, Finch, who chairs the agency’s Finance Committee, said after throwing out slews of numbers that the aviation division has lost $7 million so far this year.
While that’s bothersome, he said, the aviation division historically loses money. Even more alarming is the fact that the marine division is starting to lose money. He said losses stand at $1,000 so far this year, but until recently, it was profitable.
In an interview with the Source, board chairman Robert O’Connor Jr. said that plans to develop the Port Authority’s Cruz Bay Creek area are on hold. Until the Enighed Pond Marine Terminal opened, barges used the Creek. A July 2010 town meeting was held on St. John to get input from the public on various plans for development.
“It’s still up in the air, and the funding is not there,” he said.
O’Connor also said that plans are in the works to make the entire Port Authority-owned parking lot across from the post office into a short term lot. Currently, it has mainly long-term spaces. However, some spaces are called short term but often are filled for the entire day.
The board went into executive session to hear four presentations on proposals to run what is now the Island Beachcomber Hotel at Lindbergh Bay on St. Thomas. O’Connor said the lease had expired.
According to O’Connor, the board also voted to readvertise the position of executive director left vacant when its former director, Kenn Hobson, retired. O’Connor said the board received some applications but wanted to look at a “broader pool” of applicants. Currently Mills is filling the job on an interim basis.
In addition to Finch, O’Connor and Nicholson-Doty, board members attending the meeting included Public Works Commissioner Darryl Smalls, Attorney General Vincent Frazer, Manuel Gutierrez Jr., Allison “Allie” Petrus and Yvonne E.L. Thraen. Labor Commissioner Albert Bryan Jr. was absent.