VIPA DIRECTOR GAVE UPDATE
St. Croix–The Committee on Economic Development and Agriculture, chaired by Senator Kenneth L. Gittens met Monday in the Frits E. Lawaetz Legislative Conference Room, St. Croix. The Committee received updates from the Virgin Islands Port Authority (VIPA) on the overall status of the agency, capital improvement, and revenue-generating projects in place or on the horizon.
In his testimony, Carlton Dowe, Executive Director of VIPA, said the Authority supports social and economic activities, trade, and their largest gross domestic productÃ¢â‚¬â€tourism. He added that these activities, including operation, construction, and maintenance, provide hundreds of employment opportunities for residents.
The VIPA said Dowe, does not receive an annual allotment from the VI government. Instead, it is an autonomous entity. He pointed out that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused significant revenue shortfalls due to reduced travel and decreased marine traffic to the territory.
VIPAÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s 2021 Fiscal Year budget is $150.4 million. This budget sustained a decrease of approximately $19.1 million and includes $55 million for operating expenses, $4.5 million for debt services, and $90.9 million for projected capital expenditures.
According to Dowe, VIPA revenues decreased by 45 percent when the Territory closed travel to curtail the spread of the coronavirus. He added that the Territory has since seen a significant surge in air arrivals. However, the effect of the pandemic is still evident.
Regarding the District of St. Croix, he said there had been no new service. However, there has been a significant increase in air passenger arrivals and tourist traffic, evident as hotels and Airbnb owners reported.
Dowe said marine traffic substantially decreased their revenue collections, as cruise ships have not visited the U.S. Virgin Islands since March 2020 due to restrictions on cruise travel imposed by the CDC.
VIPA employs 365 residents in the Territory added Dowe and has not implemented any furloughs or layoffs since the pandemic. They have only filled vacancies necessary due to their mandates. He further noted that some aviation operations positions were filled using monies from the CARES Act.
Additional monies received, said Dowe, came from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the amount of $38 million as part of the CARES Act federal stimulus bill to maintain the TerritoryÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s airports.
Dowe also pointed out that the Airport Improvement Grant amounted to $8,859,506 awarded by FAA in September 2020. It provides $4,711,11I to rehabilitate 5,305 square yards of failing pavement at the Cyril E. King Airport (CEKA) and for phase two of this project to reconstruct 11,000 square yards of faulty apron pavement.
At the Henry E. Roslson Airport (HERA), added Dowe, it provides $4,148,395 for a Runway 10-28 Shoulder and Electrical Vault Construction Project scheduled to start in June 2121. According to him, VIPA will reconstruct and repair the lighting system and Taxiway A, build a new airfield electrical vault, purchase an emergency generator. In addition, a home run electrical systemÃ¢â‚¬â€all runways and edge lights on the taxiway will be replaced.
The VIPA Executive Director pointed out the following:
1. The U.S. Department of Transportation awarded VIPA $21,869,260 for the reconstruction and modernization of cargo handling and storage infrastructure at the Crown Bay Cargo Terminal on St. Thomas.
2. VIPA Police Division received a $153,000 grant in 2020 from the Law Enforcement Protection Commission to purchase safety and protective equipment for officers on the front line.
3. VIPA has applied to FAA to extend the deadline to collect Passenger Charges at CEKA. The U.S. Virgin Islands is forbidden to charge a departure tax as a Territory of the United States.
4. VIPAÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Engineering Department currently managed 21 projects in St. Thomas/St. John District and 15 on St. Croix. They have expanded $51,210,284.96 for capital projects in St. Thomas/St. John Districts and $55,280,406.01 for St. Croix.
5. They have substantially completed most of their reconstruction projects from damages by the hurricanes in September 2017. VIPA sustained over $85 million in damages in 119 port properties.
6. The HERA is expanded and modernized in four phases. The U.S. Department of Commerce-Economic Development Administration awarded VIPA $7 million to fund the first phase. Construction and completion of this first phase is expected in August 2022.
7. VIPAÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Board approved an airline incentive to encourage competitive pricing and attract new routes and airlines to the Territory. During the incentive period, landing fees are waived for one year, and terminal, arrival, and departure fees are reduced by 50-percent for a year.
8. The Legislature appropriated $2,050.00 from the St. Croix Capital Improvement Fund to fully fund the replacement and repair of the existing, deteriorated tender landing pier at the Ann E. Abramson Marine Facility, Frederiksted, St. Croix.
9. The Legislature appropriated $900,000 from the St. John Capital Improvement Fund to address much-needed repairs and improvements to the Loredon L. Boynes Dock in Cruz Bay, St. John.
10. The dredging of the Schooner Bay at Gallows Bay Marine Facility has stalled pending the approval of the permit by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
11. The construction of a new cargo terminal and improvement to the dock at the Gordon A Finch Molasses Pier, Krause Lagoon, St. Croix are in progress. The $20 million project is funded in part by a $10.6 million grant for the U.S. Department of Transportation Maritime Administration. The Legislature appropriated matching funds for $3.8 million.
12. The shoreline revetment project at the Svend Ovesen Seaplane Terminal in Christiansted, St. Croix, was completed in December 2020. This federally funded project entailed constructing a new concrete bulkhead to provide a safer facility for travelers and the operators of the seaplane service. The project cost was $3.54 million.
Senators at MondayÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s meeting were Chairman Kenneth L. Gittens, Dwayne M. Degraff, Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Javan E James, Sr., Milton E. Potter, and Donna A. Frett-Gregory.