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Charlotte Amalie
Saturday, August 13, 2022
HomeNewsArchivesAN OVERVIEW OF THE COMMERCIAL SERVICES PLAN

AN OVERVIEW OF THE COMMERCIAL SERVICES PLAN

Editor's note: Following is the full release from the National Park Service, on Aug. 10, 2001, describing the recently adopted Commercial Services Plan for the V.I. National Park.
For the past 18 months, the National Park Service has been engaged in a public planning process to prepare a Commercial Services Plan for the Virgin Islands National Park. That plan has been finalized and approved by the Southeast Regional director of the National Park Service.
This plan represents the first time in the 45-year history of this park that there has been a comprehensive blueprint on how commercial operations within the park will be managed, both now and for the future, to ensure that quality services are being provided to the visitor and that the park’s scenic, natural and cultural resources are protected.
The plan determines the types and levels of commercial visitor services necessary and appropriate in the national park over the next 10 to 15 years. It plays a key role in defining the park's future in that it limits growth in commercial uses and the number of visitors at some of the most popular locations in the park. The planning process included unprecedented public involvement, including establishment of an agency interdisciplinary team and external Sounding Board, seven public open houses, five project newsletters, and regular briefings with key constituency groups.
Approximately 100 separate commercial businesses are subject to the new plan. To implement the plan, the Virgin Islands National Park is "staffing up" by expanding its Concessions Office and adding a Senior Protection Specialist position to oversee the monitoring and enforcement elements of the park's commercial services program.
The park is also preparing [to publish] an attractive, user-friendly Commercial Services Plan for broad public distribution. This document will provide interested parties with information on the types, volumes and locations for commercial uses permitted within the national park. It will also consolidate all the regulations affecting commercial uses into a single document. The park will also be preparing a variety of targeted information advisories, notifying specific commercial users about changes in management policy or regulations.
The decision to adopt the Commercial Services Plan is documented in a Decision Notice and Finding of No Significant Impact prepared in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act and National Park Service policy and guidelines. The FONSI is based upon a Draft Commercial Services Plan and Environmental Assessment Plan/EA) released in February 2001, and comments of agencies and the public on the Draft Plan/EA.
Existing commercial operators within the park, parties who commented on the Draft Plan/EA, and local and federal agencies will automatically receive copies of the adopted plan. Other interested parties can review the plan and accompanying environmental assessment at the park’s Visitor Contact Station, at local libraries, or online at www.nps.gov/viis or www.friendsvinp.org. Printed or electronic copies can be requested from the National Park Service by telephoning 776-6201, ext. 247, or e-mailing to npplanning@islands.vi.
Key provisions of the adopted plan follow. Most provisions became effective with plan adoption.

General provisions
Any business conducting an organized and advertised visitor service for profit within the boundaried of the National Park is required to obtain the appropriate authorization. Authorized commercial uses will be those that are necessary and appropriate for public use and enjoyment of the park, that are consistent to the highest practicable degree with the preservation and conservation of the park's resources and values, and that provide for needed visitor services that cannot be adequately met outside park boundaries.
The plan conceptually identifies opportunities for four to nine separate concession operations, depending on whether the existing, combined Trunk Bay/Cinnamon Bay Campground concession is retained as a single concession or split into two separate concessions and on the contracting method chosen for the collection of mooring and anchoring fees. Before any concession is authorized, however, a feasibility analysis will be conducted to determine if the concession facility or service is economically viable. Only after the economic feasibility has been determined will a prospectus be prepared and the contracting process initiated. Concession contracts will be issued for a term of 10 years or less, with longer-term contracts issued only with the approval of the director of the National Park Service.
The plan authorizes approximately 110 annual permits for commercial day use activities on park lands and waters. The number of permits to be authorized for certain types of uses are established either at current levels or increased to allow a moderate amount of market growth.
Commercial tour group access is limited to specific locations such as Trunk Bay and Annaberg Historic Site, and specific capacities are established for the amount of visitor activity occurring at any one time in specific areas of the park.
Due to sensitive natural resources and/or insufficient infrastructure, certain beaches and bays are closed to commercial vessel access.
The plan institutes measures to improve transportation services within the park, including the requirement that all businesses and individuals providing tour services within the park obtain a permit and meet certain performance standards.
Specific provisions
Water-based tours
– Effective Sept. 1, 2001, commercial vessels over 125 feet, including mini-cruise ships, will not be authorized to anchor in park waters.
Vessels greater than 210 feet (cruise ships) have historically been prohibited from anchoring in park waters. This prohibition is extended to mini-cruise ships. Private vessels between 125 and 210 feet may continue to anchor in Francis Bay, in sand, and 1,000 feet from boat exclusion buoys.
– The number of permits available for larger multi-passenger vessels (more than 12 passengers) is capped close to or at current levels.
Limitations on the number of permits available to vessels transporting more than 12 passengers are instituted to ensure both the protection of sensitive marine resources and the quality of the visitor experience. The number of permits available is based upon vessel size, with 14 permits available for 12-24 passenger vessels and 16 permits for 25-50 passenger vessels.
– Day use rental operations will be required to obtain permits for their crewed excursions.
While sailboat and powerboat rental companies are not subject to permit for the rental of vessels for operation by individuals, they are required to obtain permits for their day-use crewed excursions. Eight permits will be available to accommodate day-use crewed excursions by sailboat and powerboat rental companies. The permits will authorize use of park waters by all vessels associated with each authorized operation, rather than permitting individual vessels. Over the next several months, the park will be working with sailboat and powerboat rental companies to develop a permitting program for their day-use crewed excursions that reflects differing numbers of boats and varying amounts of park usage. This program will be instituted beginning Jan. 1, 2002.
– Capacity limitations are established for the number of passengers carried and the number of persons at one time at any one site.
Beginning Jan. 1, 2002, a permit capacity of 50 passengers is instituted for individual commercial vessels (with some exceptions).
Also beginning Jan. 1, 2002, a capacity limitation of 175 persons at one time at any one time at any bay or beach area is established for commercial vessels (with some exceptions)
. To ensure access by smaller commercial vessels, the number of 25 to 50 passenger vessels at any area at one time is limited to five vessels.
Special commercial tour group events may be authorized by special use permit. Any commercial group exceeding 75 persons in total in one or more vessels — e.g., corporate group day-sail excursions — is required to use Trunk Bay, unless specific authorization has been obtained to access another location.
– Certain beaches are closed to commercial uses.
Due to sensitive natural resources and/or insufficient infrastructure, certain beaches are closed to group access from any type of commercial vessel; all other areas within park waters are open. Closed areas include Denis Bay, Jumbie Bay, Francis Bay beach (Francis Bay outside the boat exclusion area is open), Mary's Creek (except for authorized scuba operations and hurricane mooring), Brown Bay, Haulover Bay, and all bays on the South Shore without moorings.
Land-based tours
– Trunk Bay and Annaberg Historic Site will continue to be the only authorized locations for larger group tours.
Trunk Bay and Annaberg Historic Site are the only designated venues where commercial land-based tour groups of more than 12 passengers can be discharged from tour vehicles for swimming, snorkeling or sight-seeing. Commercial groups of 12 or fewer persons may access locations other than Trunk Bay or Annaberg with specific authorization.
Commercial tour group access to Cinnamon Bay Campground restaurant facilities is not authorized due to infrastructure limitations — i.e., restrooms and parking — and to preserve the campground ambience and reduce conflicts with campground and local users.
Authorized tour excursion vehicles may stop at scenic vistas, historic sites, and other key locations. However, discharging passengers to these sites — e.g., ruins at Cinnamon Bay — is prohibited unless specifically authorized via special use permit.
– Capacity limitations are established for land-based commercial tour groups.
At Trunk Bay, a maximum of 350 persons at one time from all tour groups combined is established. The park will work with tour providers to develop a schedule that equitably accommodates all authorized providers based upon "pulses" of cruise ship visitors.
– Effective Sept. 1, 2001, rally tours will no longer be authorized.
Rally tours introduce additional vehicles to already congested roads and parking lots within the park and have the potential to adversely affect the safety and experience of other visitors.
– Beginning Jan. 1, 2002, all businesses and individuals providing tour services for hire within the park are required to obtain a permit.
While the major tour companies have historically operated under permit, resort tours, taxi tours and individual tour operators (who typically drive under contract to the major tour operators but who "moonlight" their own tours) have not been subject to permit. To ensure that all tour operations are operating legally and equitably, beginning Jan.1, 2002, the transport of visitors for hire within the park will require a permit separate from or in addition to a tour operator permit. Resort, hotel and taxi tour services are subject to this requirement. Exempted are regular taxi services (delivery of fares to any one of a multitude of destinations), rental cars used for personal transport, and public buses.
Eighteen permits will be available to any qualified service provider, including transportation companies (e.g., Transportation Services of St. John and Varlack Ventures), the St. John and V.I. taxi associations, resorts (e.g., Caneel, Westin and Maho Bay Camps for their contracted drivers), and individual operators who provide guided tours either full- or part-time. All drivers in the employ of a transportation company or a taxi association will be covered by the company's permit. If these drivers also offer their own private tours, they will be required to obtain separate permits for that service.
Performance standards will be established by the park and could include requirements for dispatch services at Cruz Bay and Trunk Bay, uniforms, training, and a standardized presentation for island tours approved by the park, as well as designated parking at Trunk Bay for tour vehicles versus taxis.
Concessions
– A decision on the future of the Trunk Bay/Cinnamon Bay Campground Concession is deferred until the required economic feasibility analysis is completed.
Interest was expressed during the planning process in the potential to split the existing combined Trunk Bay/Cinnamon Bay Campground concession into two separate concessions. A preliminary evaluation suggests that cash flow and net income would be insufficient to maintain facilities to NPS standards and visitor expectations and to make ongoing capital expenditures and improvements.
However, it is premature to conclude such prior to the completion of a detailed economic feasibility analysis. Consequently, the plan maintains the option for either a single concession or two separate concessions, with the final determination to be made by the superintendent based upon the results of the required feasibility analysis and market interest. The existing concession contract with Caneel Bay Inc. to provide visitor services at Trunk Bay and Cinnamon Bay Campground expires Dec. 31, 2001. Given the backlog of requests, it is not expected that the required feasibility analysis will be completed before Dec. 31 and an additional contract extension until mid-2002 or later is likely.
– At Trunk Bay, gift shop operations and snack bar services will continue to be provided by a single concessioner rather than as independent concessions.
Separate operations would provide inadequate net income to finance the improvements that will be required to these operations.
– At Trunk Bay, separate rental of swimming/snorkeling gear will be terminated, and all watersports activities will be included as part of the concession contract.
Rather than two separate operations, rental of swimming/snorkeling gear will be offered only as part of the gift shop concession. Rentals by land-based tour operators may continue only until such time as a new concession contract is finalized. Watersports activities will be limited to one snuba operation and swimming/snorkeling instruction.
– At Cinnamon Bay, watersports services will remain part of the campground concession rather than being split out as a separate concession operation.
The existing watersports facilities will be moved inland to avoid cultural resource impacts, improve public access, and reduce visual impacts. The operator will also be required to construct new storage facilities to replace the existing facilities. An independent operation would not be expected to provide adequate net income to finance these improvements.
– New concessions are conceptually authorized for Reef Bay Trail hiker pickup, pumpout facility operations, operation of the NPS dock at Red Hook, and mobile food service operations at Hawksnest Bay.
Before any of these concessions can be authorized, a feasibility analysis will be conducted to determine if the concession is economically viable. Only after the economic feasibility has been determined will the concession be authorized and the prospectus and contracting process initiated. It is not expected that the required feasibility analyses can be completed before mid-2002, with awarding of contracts unlikely before fall of 2002.
– Contracting for the collection of mooring and anchoring fees may be initiated in fall of 2001 through the Recreation Fee Demonstration Program, rather than as concessions.
While the option for a concession operation(s) is retained, the preferred method to contract for the collection of mooring and anchoring fees will be through the park's Recreational Fee Demonstration Program. It is anticipated that several contracts (three to four, based upon geographic zones) will be awarded; the specific nature and scope of this service will be defined by the park's [forthcoming
, separate] Vessel Management Plan.

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