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June 4, 2001 — The fate of future fast ferry service between St. Croix and St. Thomas could be determined this week when officials from the V.I. Port Authority and Boston Harbor Cruises meet.
Boston Harbor Cruises brought the queen of its fleet – the $10 million, 600-passenger catamaran Salacia – to the territory in April for a month to see if the inter-island route could become a recurring service from December to April. Now the Port Authority and company officials are set to meet Thursday to hash out the issues that could keep the Salacia from coming back, including port fees that the company has called prohibitively high.
But recent statements by Gordon Finch, Port Authority executive director, could make the return of the Salacia a better bet. At a recent St. Croix Chamber of Commerce function, Finch said that compared to fees charged to ferries running between St. Thomas and St. John, the tariffs between St. Thomas and St. Croix are "totally out of whack."
Kevin Matthews, director of operations for Boston Harbor Cruises, said the Port Authority charges ferry operators a 50-cent per-passenger tariff on vessels running between St. Thomas and St. John. The tariff for a ferry making the St. Thomas-St. Croix run is $5.70. Then there are wharfage fees.
"That’s what we want to talk to (the Port Authority) about," Matthews said. "To put tariffs more in line with St. John."
Although Finch did say he was skeptical that a company could provide inter-island ferry service without public assistance, he said he would recommend to the Port Authority board that it reduce the tariffs between St. Croix and St. Thomas.
"We’re going to have to significantly reduce those fees," Finch said.
Matthews said that unlike other jurisdictions on the mainland where municipalities look at ferry service as mass transit and therefore accept the need for a government subsidy, Boston Cruises isn’t looking for a hand-out. He did say, however, that the company has other suitors for the Salacia and a decision has to be made soon.
The test run last April was a learning experience not only for the company but also the Port Authority, in that the service is both a transportation option for locals and a tourist draw, Matthews said. Keeping port fees low will also keep the round-trip ticket price in the neighborhood of $40 round trip, $25 one way for local residents. For visitors, the fares were $50 round trip and $30 one way. There was a $5 port charge on all tickets.
"Our main goal was to see if the service would be accepted and if it would be viable . . . and keep prices low," Matthews said. "The Virgin Islands is where we want to be."
Finch, meanwhile, said that the Port Authority is looking at approaching the federal government about ferry transportation as a mass transportation alternative in the territory. That would allow the Port Authority to become eligible for federal funding to purchase and operate ferries.
"Federal funds may very well become available," Finch said.

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