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Port Authority Officials, Senators Discuss Capital Improvements

July 17, 2006 – In lieu of a budget presentation, V.I. Port Authority representatives spoke about various capital improvement projects currently ongoing or slated for next year during Monday's Finance Committee meeting. Since VIPA is a semi-autonomous government agency, many of the projects will be paid for through a mix of federal funds and local revenues generated through port fees and taxes.
During the meeting, VIPA Executive Director Darlan Brin said that the authority's board is currently deliberating on its operating budget, which will be completed in August and subsequently submitted to the Legislature. However, since VIPA does not require an annual budget allotment, it does not need the Senate to approve the budget.
Most of the conversation Monday centered around the opening of the new Crown Bay facility on St. Thomas, the reintroduction of cruise ships on St. Croix, and improvements needed at airports within both districts. To accompany the presentation, Brin brought in detailed mockups that also outlined new construction at the Enighed Pond facility on St. John.
Brin discussed a new economic initiative coming online for St. Croix, which includes the construction of a hotel and cultural theme park.
Also discussed was a recent court ruling by Superior Court Judge Leon Kendall that said VIPA, the Ritz-Carlton St. Thomas and Caneel Bay resort are violating the franchise operation of the V.I. Taxi Association at Cyril E. King Airport on St. Thomas.
During Monday's meeting, Brin said VIPA has decided to appeal certain portions of the ruling, and consequently would not be paying the $100,000 fine.
He added, however, that VIPA has developed a new form that visitors can use as proof that they have prepaid for a package tour (See "VIPA Director Seeking Solution to Conflict with Taxi Association").
Brin also responded to concerns from some senators about the installation of guardrails along the roadway adjacent to the pond on the eastern side of the Red Hook road on St. Thomas. (See "Parking in Red Hook to Become Even Scarcer").
Calling it a "controversial issue," senators said they were worried that people were being hit with a "double whammy."
"First they have to pay to park, then they have to walk the great distance to the dock," said Sen. Craig. W. Barshinger.
Brin said VIPA had spent "a lot of money" trying to address the critical lack of parking in the area. He said VIPA had established an agreement with the East End Taxi Association to man a lot at the western end of the Ivanna Eudora Kean High School.
Brin said the taxi association was supposed to have set up a booth, charged a parking fee and shuttled residents from the parking lot to the dock and back.
"We expended a lot of money to get this lot access," Brin said. "But so far, it has remained virtually empty. So right now, there's no fee being collected since there's nobody there."
He added that installing the guardrails is a vital part of the Red Hook terminal project, slated to be finished in December.
In terms of other critical capital projects on St. Thomas, Brin discussed the development of the Crown Bay dock and commercial center – scheduled to open in late October or early November – and improvements to the Cyril E. King Airport. (See "10-Year Agreement Reached between Port Authority, Princess Cruise Line").
Brin said the airport has not had any upgrades since 1989, and is overdue on improvements to the baggage claim, passenger pick up and taxi lane areas.
While Brin said that most of the project is being paid for by Federal Aviation Administration funds, he told senators that the government should help in paying for future improvements.
After the meeting, he said U.S. states and territories are given a certain amount of "entitlement funds" throughout the year by the federal government. However, the amount of funding given is determined by the head of the U.S. Department of Transportation and depends on how much traffic comes through the airport on a given basis.
Since the territory has a relatively low traffic rate, VIPA has been asking for "discretionary funds" to subsidize projects and improvements, Brin said. However, the amount of discretionary funds given to VIPA has been decreasing over the years, so there is a need for additional money.
Brin spoke about projects on St. Croix, mentioning the development of a hotel and cultural theme park in Estate Betty's Hope. He said the lease for the project has already been executed between VIPA and TransCapital – a financing company on the mainland – for 400 acres of land in the area.
After the meeting, Brin said the company would be investing approximately $100 million into the local community, adding that once the agreement is finalized, VIPA would be coming before the Legislature to seek a zoning change to allow for the development of a hotel.
Work ongoing at the Ann E. Abramson Pier would also promote economic development for St. Croix, Brin said. He explained that VIPA would continue dredging in the area to accommodate the new fleet of voyager and ultra-voyager class vessels coming into the cruise industry.
Ships docking on St. Croix are currently exempt from various VIPA fees, including docking, wharfage and per passenger taxes – as outlined in a cruise ship agreement between the government and the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association. Brin said the agreement expired in April and that the Cruise Ship Task Force – of which VIPA Board Chairman Robert O'Connor is a part – would be working on an extension.
In response to a question from Sen. Neville James about the extent of the dredging, Brin said the area around the dock would be dredged to a depth of 35 feet on the south side, and 32 feet on the north side.
Present during Monday's meeting were Barshinger, James and Sens. Liston Davis, Pedro "Pete" Encarnacion, Juan Figueroa-Serville, Louis P. Hill, Ronald E. Russell and Usie R. Richards.
Sens. Roosevelt C. David and Norman Jn Baptiste were absent.

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