Oct. 18, 2006 — After operating in the Virgin Islands for less than a year, the Island Lynx Ferry Company — offering service between St. Thomas and St. Croix– will have to close up shop, as the V.I. Port Authority board voted unanimously on Wednesday to terminate its lease agreement.
Since the vote to terminate the contract was conducted during an executive session, few details, such as when the termination is effective, were released by the board regarding the decision. However, VIPA Executive Director Darlan Brin said after the meeting that Island Lynx owes the authority "a lot of money"– approximately $51,000 — in rent and port fees.
The lease agreement provided Island Lynx a spot at the Gallows Bay dock on St. Croix.
While the Source was unable to reach a representative from Island Lynx on Wednesday, an outgoing message left on the company's answering machine by managing partner Bob Siebengartner apologizes to residents for "the continued delay in service."
"To address the current rumors, the technical problems we're experiencing are financial in nature and have nothing to do with the vessel," Siebengartner states. "Until we resolve the problem, we will not be able to resume our regularly scheduled service."
He adds that the company "remains confident" in its ability to resolve the issue, and promises a "formal announcement" when Lynx resumes service.
At a meeting held in late August, Siebengartner petitioned the board to reduce per-passenger fees from $2.85 to 25 cents. He explained that Lynx's costs have greatly increased over the past few months, forcing the company to come to VIPA for relief.
The request was denied, as board members said that port and per-passenger fees were needed to keep the authority "solvent."
While the termination of the agreement may prove problematic for some residents, the authority is exploring other options — such as bringing Boston Harbor Cruises, operators of V.I. Fast Ferry services, back to the territory.
Boston Harbor managing partner Frederick L. Nolan told the VIPA board Wednesday that the company would be willing to resume operations if it were given an exclusive five-year contract. In exchange, the Fast Ferry would offer year-round service for residents between St. Thomas and St. Croix.
Prior to pulling out of the territory after Island Lynx began operating in March, the Fast Ferry operated during winter seasons, Nolan said. He explained that Fast Ferry stopped offering service because it "couldn't make the numbers work" with the additional competition.
"We would run as long as there's no competition, and we would like to have the assurance that we would be able to have an exclusive contract," he added. While Nolan said there would be costs associated with bringing Fast Ferry back to the territory (such as a $10,000 mobilization fee and fuel expenses), he assured board members that the company could have boats running as early as next month.
"We wouldn't be making this proposal if we couldn't make it work," he said. "With Boston Harbor Cruises, the board will be using a reputable company that understands the market, and its challenges, as well."
While Nolan said the company would be able to use one of its vessels to begin ferry service in November or December, he suggested that board members work on applying for federal funds to acquire a new boat.
"We have to go out and find the right piece of equipment," he said. "The boats we have now are not fuel efficient. Our vessel, the Athena, would be brought down at the beginning, but it has to be back in Rhode Island in April. If we're coming to work in November or December of this year, then we have to find the right equipment for next season."
VIPA board chairman Robert O'Connor Jr. said the port is "very interested in maintaining ferry service between St. Thomas and St. Croix."
"We will try and do whatever we can to facilitate that activity," he said, after Nolan mentioned that Lynx has not been in operation for "quite some time."
No action was taken Wednesday on Nolan's proposal.
"We'll consider it and get back to you," O'Connor said.
Board members present during Wednesday's meeting were Attorney General Kerry Drue, Leslie Milliner, O'Connor, Hector Peguero, Planning and Natural Resources Commissioner Dean Plaskett, James Rodgers and Yvonne Thraen.
Public Works Commissioner George Phillips and Tourism Commissioner Pamela Richards were absent.
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