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Monday, May 20, 2024
HomeNewsLocal newsCZM-STJ Board Challenges VIPA About Parking Rates at Gravel Lot

CZM-STJ Board Challenges VIPA About Parking Rates at Gravel Lot

Vehicles block a major entrance to the gravel lot. (Source photo by Amy Roberts)
Vehicles block a major entrance to the gravel lot. (Source photo by Amy Roberts)
Natiqua Gabriel and Brianna Warner collect fees at the one open entrance. (Source photo by Amy Roberts)
Natiqua Gabriel and Brianna Warner collect fees at the one open entrance of the gravel lot. (Source photo by Amy Roberts)

Controversy over the parking fees imposed by the Virgin Islands Port Authority for the use of the gravel parking lot near the Moorehead Marine Terminal in Cruz Bay continues to generate controversy a week after the meeting where the proposal set off a furor.

The lot, which closed in August for an upgrade, officially reopened Monday, but several members of the St. John Coastal Zone Management Board believe reopening the lot before repairs are completed violates the permit granted to the Port Authority by CZM in 2016.

Some CZM-STJ board members argue that the permit states their board must approve any parking fees before they can be implemented by the Port Authority. The proposed rates were disclosed at the Dec. 9 meeting, and since then St. John residents have loudly decried the proposed annual rate of $2,100.

Brion Morrisette, who served on the CZM-STJ board when the permit was granted in 2016, said the recent situation “was the express reason we put in the provision to make sure Port Authority did not put in a rate structure that was unreasonable.”

Morrisette said he and other board members believe the Port Authority has violated multiple provisions of the permit.

“We have requested enforcement actions and advice from the Department of Planning and Natural Resources commissioner and the Coastal Zone Management head and are awaiting clarification,” he said.

In a letter sent last week to CZM Director Marlon Hibbert, St. John CZM board member David Silverman wrote, “This permit required a number of improvements to the gravel lot, including (a) installation of a ‘flexible, pervious masonry paving system,’ (b) installation of landscaping, (c) installation of a number of drainage improvements including concrete swales and drop inlets and (d) installation of parking lot access controls. It also requires that before any fees are collected that the fee structure be submitted to the STJ CZM Committee.”

The letter continued, “Based on what I can tell, VIPA have not completed the improvements required in the CZM permit. I do not believe they installed a permeable masonry paving system. They do not appear to have installed landscaping. They certainly have not installed the access controls, and to the best of my knowledge they have not submitted the proposed fee structure to the CZM Committee.”

Silverman concluded by requesting that a cease and desist order be issued to the Port Authority if CZM officials complete an inspection and confirm the concerns outlined in the letter.

At the Dec. 9 town meeting in Cruz Bay at which the fees were discussed, Carlton Dowe, director of V.I. Port Authority, repeatedly told the audience that no special provisions would be made for reduced fees for any government departments or any groups despite repeated requests from commissioners. Given his statement, St. John residents were shocked to see legal notices several days later advertising a request for rental car agencies to bid on 40 spaces in the gravel lot.

At first, some St. John residents thought the notice indicated a change in strategy by the Port Authority. By charging rental car agencies, the Port Authority could reduce the rates for the public and still meet their budgetary requirements.

However, Monifa Marrero Brathwaite, public information officer for the Port Authority, said, “The leasing of the spaces will not affect the fee structure.”

Following the announcement of the request for proposals from rental car companies, social media sites lit up with comments, including “Extremely suspicious that Director Dowe did not mention this at Monday meeting, [when] he ranted about how all these government agencies want special deals and how he was absolutely firm that this would not be allowed … how much do you want to bet that ex Port Authority Director O’Connor wins the bid? St John nonprofits – why not bid for these places and donate them to locals?”

Robert O’Connor Jr., who owns a rental car business, once served as head of the Port Authority’s board of directors.

Many St. John residents did not even notice that the gravel lot had opened, as most of the entrances to the gravel lot were blocked Monday while construction continued. The entrance nearest the exit to the Moorehead barge terminal was open and staffed. However, at 11 a.m. Tuesday only two vehicles were parked in the lot.

While construction on the lot continues, the Port Authority is offering the first half-hour of parking for free, after 31 minutes VIPA is asking a flat rate of $10 per day. Attendants are on site from 5:30 a.m. until 11p.m., but customers can retrieve their vehicles at any time.

A construction crew installs fencing around the lot. Rain fills potholes on Fish Fry Road. Residents have complained that the road floods more often since the parking lot was installed. (Source photo by Amy Roberts)
A construction crew installs fencing around the lot. Rain fills potholes on Fish Fry Road. Residents have complained that the road floods more often since the parking lot was installed. (Source photo by Amy Roberts)
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