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VIPA Review Covers Financial, Security Issues

June 13, 2007 — A review of V.I. Port Authority capital-improvement projects Wednesday brought to light a few financial discrepancies, along with some safety and security issues — including a report of a shooting incident at the Red Hook ferry terminal.
During a meeting of the authority's governing board, VIPA Executive Director Darlan Brin said he has not yet received an official report of the incident, which took place Saturday evening.
The incident involved a crew member working on one of the ferries docked at Red Hook, according to VIPA board chairman Robert O'Connor. "Apparently there was some type of confrontation, and the crew member went for his gun and shots were fired, possibly into one of the vessels," he said.
Coast Guard regulations call for a daily incident report to be submitted to the port's marine chief, Brin explained. "However, as of today, no incident report has appeared on my desk," he said. "I had to hear about it on the street."
The shooting was reported to the V.I. Police Department, however. During a Senate hearing on St. Thomas Wednesday evening, acting district Chief of Police Milton Petersen Sr. said the vessel involved in the incident was searched once it docked on St. John.
However, there were reportedly no witnesses to the incident and no related items — such as bullet casings — were found aboard the boat when it was searched, he said.
While concerned about the lack of details surrounding the incident, VIPA board members on Wednesday also expressed frustration about construction of the Red Hook terminal, which was scheduled to have been completed in late 2006.
Though the project's status is listed on board documents as 98-percent complete, O'Connor said he has not noted any significant improvements in the facility over the past few months.
"We're tired of receiving dates for the completion of the terminal," he said. "Because it was supposed to have been finished in October, then we heard November, December, all the way up to June. It's making us look bad — people are talking about it. Because they see no real effort in trying to complete it; they just see the thing sitting there every day without anyone doing any real work."
While VIPA Deputy Executive Director Ken Hobson said he has recently been working on getting a permanent power source for the site and setting up concession stands, Brin explained that approximately $900,000 worth of change orders were executed for the project without the board's consent.
The change orders appeared on his desk for approval after the work had already been completed, Brin said. "There were changes that we requested, yes, but they were authorized without my consent and without coming before the board," he said. "And the questions that we have to ask are who approved these things, and where the funding is going to come from."
While Brin said he will continue to investigate the issue, Hobson suggested that the project's contractor be invited to testify at the next meeting of the board's Property Committee.
The completion of the Crown Bay commercial center was another bone of contention for board members, who questioned why the port is having trouble bringing tenants into the facility.
"We need to spend a lot more time in the area of getting these spaces rented," said VIPA board member Gordon Finch, who explained that the port also has to be concerned with paying off $35 million worth of bonds issued to build the Crown Bay center.
Crown Bay is currently at a 43-percent level of occupancy, with 20 stores opened, explained property manager Diana Richardson.
While the board did approve three new leases for the facility on Wednesday, they also tabled discussion on a lease for A.H Riise Liquor and Fragrance, whose proposal includes the opening of a retail store for alcohol products, cosmetics and other "tourist-related items."
Because of a lack of financial information provided in the proposal, Finch suggested that the lease be sent back to the Property Committee for further consideration. While a majority of board members supported Finch's recommendation, board member Cassan Pancham argued that turning down the lease could affect the port's ability to fill the rest of the space available at Crown Bay.
Board members agreed to amend the terms of the port's standard lease agreement, requiring specific pieces of information be submitted by lessees on a case-by-case basis.
Status updates were also given on other capital-improvement projects, including the correction of deficiencies found at both of the territory's airports.
Board members also voted to:
— allow Brin to negotiate a contract dealing with the planning and design of a new ramp and cargo building at the Gordon A. Finch Molasses Marine Cargo Terminal;
— allow Brin to negotiate concession agreements with local taxi groups;
— allow Brin to begin looking for a staff attorney to deal with the authority's personnel matters; and
— continue negotiations with VIPA unions.
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