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VIPA Board OKs Discounts at Ferry Turnstiles

June 17, 2009 — The V.I. Port Authority is moving ahead with the installation of turnstiles at the Red Hook marine terminal, but will offer a 50-percent discount — which amounts to 25 cents — to students, seniors 62 and older and certain passengers traveling for medical reasons.
Some VIPA board members said Wednesday it would be difficult to confirm whether a patient was actually traveling for medical purposes. Others made it clear that the exemption was not intended for all groups, but for those patients with chronic needs, such as dialysis or cancer treatment, which could be confirmed by a medical certificate from an attending physician or other such documentation.
While the issue was not completely resolved during the meeting on St. Thomas, the board did approve all three exemptions. Meanwhile, the turnstiles would work in tandem with the new e-ticketing system being proposed by local ferry companies, said VIPA Engineering Director Dale Gregory.
It's possible that turnstiles may also be installed at the Wilmoth Blyden Marine Terminal on St. Thomas, since the ferries are looking to move from their current spot on the waterfront apron, Gregory said later. While he did mention the possible installation of turnstiles at the Cruz Bay dock, Gregory said the authority's initial plan is to put in turnstiles at Red Hook and charge one 50-cent fee for the round trip.
Another major discussion point was a request from IPV (doing business as Caribbean Host) for additional storage space in Cyril E. King Airport's pre-clearance area. The company operates a liquor store at the airport, and also asked to lease out a portion of the adjoining VIP area to increase its retail space. While the request was approved, some board members brought up the need for a comprehensive layout plan for improvements to the terminal.
"We had asked for something like this — particularly for the downstairs," said VIPA board chairman Cassan Pancham. "Where is that? If we start to grant leases extending people's usage of the facility, and we finally get a layout plan that affects that, how are we going to do with it? We're granting more and more space to people within the terminal, but it's without a plan. Where is the plan?"
The project was put out to bid and three proposals were received, but there was a major disparity in price, responded VIPA Executive Director Kenn Hobson. It appears that some of the companies misunderstood the scope of work, so the project will be re-bid after some modifications to the scope of work are made, he said.
Board members and staff butted heads again later in the meeting, as board member Gordon Finch called for a status update on the purchase of new firetrucks and rapid-response vehicles for the territory's airports. Last September, the board authorized the use of about $3.4 million in Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) funding to buy two firetrucks and one rapid-response vehicle for St. Croix, along with one firetruck and one rapid-response vehicle for St. Thomas.
It was made clear by fire chiefs at St. Croix's Henry E. Rohlsen Airport that the three existing trucks are old, and because of some "snafu" in the bidding process, the new trucks have not yet been ordered, Finch said.
"This firetruck situation on St. Croix is going to blow up on us," he said. "Two firetrucks have got to be operating at all times. Right now there are three trucks, but two are more than 10 years old, while the other is close to 20 years old. If they're not working, then we're going to be in serious trouble."
The authority did receive the federal grant for the trucks, and a bid award was made, but eventually got tied up in two challenges made by one of the losing bidders, Gregory said later. The long and short of the story, he said, was that after talking it over with the FAA, the authority decided to start over and re-advertise the project, which was done last week.
It was announced Wednesday that Standard and Poor's had reinstated the Port Authority's BBB+ investment grade bond rating. At a meeting last September, board members said the bond rating had been suspended because of the "untimely submission" of financial information, among other things, and lamented that it would be difficult to get the rating reinstated in the current economic environment. (See "Port Authority Approves Video Lottery Terminals, Names Hobson Director.")
Calling for a round of applause at the news, Pancham said the authority would continue to maintain a "strong communication link" with the rating agency and keep the financial information flowing. Plans are in place to have a face-to-face meeting with S&P representatives by the end of the summer, he said.
As of the end of April, the authority's operating revenues were about $26.8 million, while total operating expenses topped off at $31.1 million, for a total operating loss of approximately $4.3 million and a net decrease in assets of about $2.8 million.
Compared to the same period last April, the authority's operating revenues have decreased 11.13 percent (down from $30.1 million), while total operating expenditures have also decreased by about 4.6 percent, from $32.6 million to $31.1 million.
On the aviation side, total year-to-date operation expenditures for fiscal year 2009 are $16.5 million, while total operating revenues are $11.8 million — amounting to a nearly $4.7 million operating loss and a $3.6 million net decrease in assets.
On the marine side, current operating revenues are pegged at $14.7 million, while total expenditures topped off at $14.5 million, for an operating profit of $456,083 and net increase in assets of $683,851. The authority is operating in the red in this area, but overall operating revenues have decreased by about 12.6 percent when compared to the same period last fiscal year, due to a drop of $1.8 million from St. Croix, whose expenditures have significantly exceeded revenues, according to the authority's balance sheet.
Also noted was a drop in cruise-ship passenger totals over the previous fiscal year, from about 1.4 million in April FY 2008 to 1.1 million in April FY 2009.
In other news, the board:
— authorized the negotiation of a lease with the Waste Management Authority for space in Estate Bethlehem on St. Croix for the construction of a transfer station where waste from the Anguilla landfill can be shipped off island;
— approved a recommendation made by its consultant, Robert C. Arthur, to maintain its current aviation rates in an effort to attract more airline carriers;
— tabled a request from Alpine Energy Group for land for a waste-to-energy facility. Since the company currently doesn't have a contract with WMA or the V.I. Water and Power Authority, board members aid they needed to get more information on the facility before they can make a decision;
— tabled a request from O'Neale's Trucking and Transport for a three-year lease for additional space at the Wilfred "Bomba" Allick container port on St. Croix. Board members said they need some extra time to investigate the company's current lease, and discussed a November 2008 letter from company head Keith O'Neale Jr. about lax security at the facility, saying that 31 pieces of Crowley equipment had gone missing. VIPA Assistant Executive Director David Mapp said the equipment was stolen off the dock and found in other islands, such as Antigua. While VIPA attorney Don Mills suggested the subject be discussed in executive session, Finch proposed that security cameras be installed on the bulkhead of the port;
— tabled a request from MSI for a lease extension; and
— tabled a request for a lease transfer from Trans Capital to People's Corp. for property at Estate Betty's Hope on St. Croix for the construction of a luxury hotel and other residential facilities. Board
members said they needed more time to look into the matter, and noted they would not waive the $250,000 transfer fee.
Board members present Wednesday were Albert Bryan Jr., Finch, Vincent Frazer, Beverly Nicholson Doty, Robert O'Connor Jr., Pancham and Darryl Smalls. Board members Hector Peguero and Yvonne Thraen were absent.
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