July 17, 2002 – The pros and cons of soliciting additional ferry companies to operate service between St. Croix and St. Thomas were presented to the Port Authority board Wednesday morning, although a quorum was not present and no business could be conducted.
Results of a feasibility study for year-'round ferry service between St. Thomas and St. Croix were outlined by Triad Associates, consultants who have been working for two years on a "St. Croix Action Agenda" to improve the island's sagging economy.
John E. Corrigan, Triad senior associate, also updated board members on two other projects — a proposed 100-acre industrial park with a hotel and conference center, and the Heritage Cultural Center, a theme park which would include a water park and an iguana farm.
Christopher B. Matson, a transportation expert for Triad, said the ferry feasibility study found that year-'round ferry service would work. He said that conservatively estimating, expanded ferry service could be expected to penetrate about 1 percent of the airline market, or about 44,000 ferry passenger trips per year.
Matson described at length what sort of vessel would be optimum and suggested VIPA send requests for proposals (RFP's) to selected ferry companies offering an enticement such as reduced dockage fees to spur interest. He said the vessel would have to be a multihull at least 100 feet long in order to handle local seas.
Matson cited studies he had done on stateside ferry operations, but board members noted that the coastal waters the mainland boats ply are unlike the frequently rough seas between St. Croix and St. Thomas.
Pamela Richards, who as Tourism commissioner chairs the VIPA board, expressed support for the idea but said RFP's might not be the way to go; she said contacting individual companies might be a better idea.
Boston Harbor Cruises operated a fast ferry locally during season in 2001-02 and is scheduled to return for the coming season. Its officials have said year-'round service is a possibility. Mermaid Fast Ferries, a St. Croix company, was scheduled to begin what officials said would be year-'round service last spring but is not yet in operation.
Gordon Finch, VIPA executive director, said the idea of sending out RFP's with the two al ready committed companies still viable would send out the wrong message. He said if he owned a company and found the authority was sending out bids to other companies, he would not be pleased.
Brandishing the inch-thick ferry feasibility study document, Finch added, "The purpose of this report is to get federal dollars."
Joe Thayer, Mermaid Fast Ferries general manager, contacted Wednesday afternoon, said the company's vessel is in Gallows Bay but needs work. "We are getting it ready for U.S. Coast Guard inspection," which could be completed in the next couple of weeks, he said.
Thayer said the ferry — a 135-foot catamaran — will operate out of Gallows Bay until planned construction work there gets under way. He said he wasn't certain where operations would move then. On St. Thomas, plans call for the Mermaid to dock at the Edward Wilmoth Blyden IV Marine Terminal on Veterans Drive.
Four of the nine board members were present: Richards; Kent Bernier, the governor's economic adviser; Leslie A. Milliner; and Attorney General Iver Stridiron. Absent were Wayne Callwood, Public Works commissioner; Dean Plaskett, Planning and Natural Resources commissioner; and Robert O' Connor Jr. Two seats on the board are vacant.
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