It’s a matter of Deal or No Deal as the Federal Aviation Administration, VIGL Operations LLC, and DPNR attempt to sort out contracts, permits and budgetary timelines that are stalling the resumption of horse racing in the territory.
At a news conference at the Virgin Islands Port Authority conference room Friday, Horse Racing Commissioner Jay Watson explained that the FAA has denied the issuance of a permit to begin construction at the Randolph Doc James Racetrack on St. Croix. The permit was denied based on FAA findings that the property on which the race track is located is designated exclusively for aviation purposes.
The $27 million deal to construct two race tracks, one on St. Croix and one on St. Thomas, was signed during the Mapp administration and approved by the 31st Legislature. However, the FAA contends the track was originally constructed without the necessary permits.
The deal now hinges on the acceptance of a payment plan between the V.I. Port Authority and the FAA, according to Watson. The payment plan will be presented to the FAA “in the next few weeks,” Watson said. Once that happens and if the deal is approved by the FAA, the Port Authority can move forward. If the payment plan is not approved, the entire project can be derailed.
DPNR permits also await the resolution of the issues between the FAA and the Port Authority. DPNR permits waiting to be approved are: earth change, shop, solid waste, dust management, electrical, building, fire and plumbing permits.
Regarding the budgetary timelines, VIGL cannot resubmit its local permits until March 31, while the FAA has no timeline to respond to the application.
This ongoing situation could stymie the carnival races traditionally held in April.
“We have to follow the terms of the lease franchise agreement and the laws of the Virgin Islands,” Watson said, adding that any talk of the commission not wanting to have races for carnival is “the furthest thing from the truth.”
“Basically our hands are tied. It would be unacceptable for the commission to violate the law,” Watson said.
Commission members concluded by stressing the importance of obtaining the permit because without it the entire agreement becomes null and void.