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VIPA Identifies Source of Runway Light Outage

The cause of the Nov. 1 runway light outage at Cyril E. King Airport has finally been identified, according to V.I. Port Authority officials.

At VIPA’s monthly board meeting on Wednesday, Engineering Director Dale Gregory explained the sequence of events that led to the 90-minute-long outage, during which the emergency backup system failed to engage.

Gregory said a power surge from WAPA at 8:45 p.m. tripped the two circuit breakers that the runway and taxiway lights were on. The generator-powered emergency system then restored the lights on the taxiway but failed to illuminate the runway. At 10:15 p.m. airport officials reset both circuit breakers and restored normal power to both the taxiway and runway.

According to Gregory, an electrician discovered last week that the runway lights were not actually connected to the emergency backup generator system. Though both the taxiway and runway lights were connected to circuits marked “E” (which normally denotes an emergency backup), the runway’s “E” circuit somehow got disconnected from the generator.

Gregory said that he suspects the disconnect may have accidentally occurred during recent work that was done to upgrade the intensity of the runway lights. He added that this problem was not readily apparent during the initial investigation into the outage, which is why it was not discovered until last week.

The backup generator has since been reconnected to the circuit in question, and the runway lights have also been switched to a different circuit, Gregory said.

Board member Gordon Finch said that VIPA regrets the situation. “This was a snafu on our part,” he said. “We take the blame when we’re wrong.”

The outage resulted in two flights from San Juan being diverted back to San Juan, and one American Airlines flight from Miami being delayed for an hour and 20 minutes.

Also at Wednesday’s meeting, consultants from Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL) presented a summary of their portfolio analysis and strategic plan for VIPA, which includes recommendations for how the agency can better utilize its employees and property holdings to maximize revenues.

Consultant Jonathan Walk noted that the Crown Bay District, Cruz Bay in St. John, and Betty’s Hope in St. Croix all contain many underutilized property parcels which have the potential to generate revenue either through development or sale.

JLL has been working with VIPA’s Property Management Division to understand how they manage their huge and diverse portfolio, and to offer tools and best practices to improve efficiency.

The report said that VIPA manages more than 200 properties on 1,500 acres, and acts as landlord to over 300 tenants across all three islands. The team of six employees in the Property Management department which oversee all this is significantly smaller than the typical private-sector team and has a significantly higher workload.

In other business:
• Crown Bay District Property Manager Vickeé Armstrong gave a report on the Oct. 27 merchant seasonal kickoff meeting. “We are communicating better than ever and our merchants are in a more positive frame of mind than ever,” she said. A 5-year anniversary/holiday party will be held on Dec. 16 to benefit the Salvation Army.
• The agreed-upon five-year lease provision for Bournefield is still being finalized by the property management department, and tenants have been notified that it is forthcoming. A draft version of the lease will be available at the next VIPA board meeting.
• The Finance Committee reported revenues of $2.7 million and operating expenses of $7.2 million for the month of September 2011, with a net loss of $4.3 million. Gordon Finch noted that despite the net losses, there has been a net increase in assets for all aspects of St. Thomas operations, while the only loss was in the marine division on St. Croix.
• Denise Mills, director of Property Management, gave an accounts receivable report that revealed that AR has continued to stabilize. Fewer tenants are holding outstanding balances, with a small minority who owe large amounts making up the bulk of what’s owed: 28 tenants owe more than $20,000, and 10 of those owe more than $100,000. Notices to quit in 30 days have been sent to those without an arrangement to pay.

Board members present Wednesday were Attorney General Vincent Frazer, Tourism Commissioner Beverly Nicholson-Doty, Public Works Commissioner Darryl Smalls, Yvonne E. L. Thraen, Gordon Finch, and Albert Bryan, Jr.

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