March 13, 2006 – Another deadline has come and gone. The saga of the dredging of the Ann E. Abramson pier in Frederiksted began in December 2004 when the V.I. Port Authority governing board gave the go-ahead to remove sand and debris alongside the pier so larger cruise ships could dock in St. Croix.
Since then, problems with permits and applications, as well as concerns from environmentalists, have delayed the progress. Even hurricanes Wilma and Katrina on the Gulf Coast impacted the St. Croix dredging project.
The most recent deadline was promised at an Economic Development, Planning and Environmental Protection Committee hearing Feb. 16. Darlin Brin, VIPA executive director, testified the dredging would start March 13.
Brin told the committee chair, Sen. Neville James, all the permits have been approved. He said dredging equipment being used in Crown Bay, St. Thomas, would be transferred to St. Croix to do the work.
On deadline day, the pier basked in its usual serenity. No workers; no cruise ships; no tourists.
"The clock is ticking," said Jeff Lawlor, VIPA senior engineer, referring to the dredging contract in a telephone interview on Monday.
Lawlor said some living coral needs to be removed from around the pier. Divers from National Resources Consultants (NRC) will begin relocating the coral this week, he said. The process should take two days, as Lawler said much of the coral is attached to concrete rubble and is easily relocated.
"You just have to take the whole rock," he said. The coral will be placed in a nearby environment with similar light and water quality.
After the coral is relocated, Lawler said divers would begin the underwater removal of 240 piles left over from the old pier, which is scheduled to begin March 20. The actual removal of sand would begin March 27, according to Lawlor.
The dredging equipment is still on St. Thomas, where the contractor is waiting for replacement parts to come from the states. The equipment will be barged to St. Croix, he said.
Lawlor said he is not concerned about time running out on the contract because the contractor would incur penalties once the time expires. "The contractors' start date is well within our window," Lawlor said.
The contractor has 168 to 180 days or up till June 30 to complete the project. He said the start delay does not affect the completion date.
Both the north and south sides of the pier will be dredged to accommodate Voyager-class cruise vessels. The dredging will remove 25,000 cubic yards of sand and rubble on the north side and 22,000 cubic yards on the south side with a width of 200 feet on each side.
The sea bed will be dredged to 34 feet below mean sea level, giving 5 to 6 feet extra "wiggle room" for the ships.
According to the contract, V.I. Cement and Paving will be paid approximately $2.9 million and National Resources Consultants will be paid approximately $250,000.
In December 2004, the VIPA governing board approved a resolution to seek requests for proposals for the dredging. (See "VIPA Approves Dredging Projects").
In July 2005, a St. Croix organization sought to counter environmentalists' efforts who voiced their concern of possible environmental impact to the coral reef and marine life. (See "Coalition Backs Dredging at Pier").
The project was delayed again when VICBP's parent company, Devcon International, located in Deerfield, Fla., suffered damage from Hurricane Wilma. And when Hurricane Katrina slammed the Gulf Coast the company's dredging equipment was sent to assist in the Mississippi and Louisiana area. (See "Frederiksted Pier Dredging on Hold – Again").
Sen. James issued a press release Monday stating he received an update from Lawler on the dredging.
"I will continue to keep the pressure on both VIPA and the contractor," said James, who is currently in Miami attending the annual Sea Trade Cruise Shipping Convention.
James said "certain entities" in the cruise ship industry are "anxiously awaiting" the completion of the Frederiksted Pier dredging.
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