V. I. senators Tuesday peppered representatives from the Port Authority, the West Indian Co. Ltd., and the Department of Planning and Natural Resources with questions about $40 million worth of port-enhancing projects across the territory.
The $23 million dredging of Charlotte Amalie harbor to allow St. Thomas to accommodate cruise ships of the Oasis and Quantum class received most of their attention.
Senators ratified Gov. Albert Bryan’s approval of the Major Coastal Zone permit, allowing the dredging of 255,118 yards of material from the existing berth at the West Indian turning basin and at the entrance channel into the Charlotte Amalie.
However, plans to dump the dredged material at the Addelita Cancryn School was not met with smiles. Sen. Myron Jackson wanted to know who made the decision to put the material at Cancryn. Damian Cartwright, who served as acting executive director until Carlton Dowe was appointed executive director last month, said it was a group decision. He said the material would only remain there until it could be used as fill on the Veterans’ Drive project.
Dowe said with the senators’ approval in hand, the agencies can go to the U.S. Corp of Engineers and get its OK for the dredging.
Senators expressed a need to move quickly.
“It is high time we do what we have to do to compete,” Sen. Marvin Blyden said.
Sen. Kurt Vialet was concerned about the slowness of the $7-million project on St. Croix to dredge Gallows Bay and open a welcome center. He said it had been funded four years ago. Dowe said the new welcome center would be completed within two months. He added, after further questions from Vialet concerning the conditions of the streets in the vicinity, the government was looking into making the roads concrete. The streets in the area are consistently washed out in rainstorms. Dowe said the Port Authority wanted to complete the land side of the project first because the permitting process for dredging takes longer.
“Things are moving in the right direction on St. Croix,” he said.
Senators also gave unanimous approval to the Coastal Zone Management permit for the two-story U.S. Customs and Border Protection Building at the Urman V. Fredericks Marine Terminal in Red Hook, St. Thomas. The permit allows the demolition of the existing pier of 2,000 feet and the construction of a new pier twice that length. The new facility will mean residents and visitors arriving from the British Virgin Islands need not stop in St. John to clear customs before traveling to St. Thomas.
Sen. Steven Payne, Sr. wanted to know what was happening to improve port facilities on St. John. Cartwright told him a new roof was being put on the facility on the dock and a restroom was being added.
The Port Authority opened its two-story parking garage in Red Hook last month. It is open from 5:30 a.m. until midnight, with a parking rate of $10 per day, and provides 152 regular parking spaces and six accessible spaces for physically challenged drivers. Construction cost $5.9 million.
“It has been a long time coming,” Sen. Donna Frett-Gregory said.
Sen. Jackson added, “We need one downtown.”
Sens. Jackson, Oakland Benta and Blyden had questions about what effect the dredging in Charlotte Amalia harbor would have the environment. Amy Dempsey, president of Bioimpact and a consultant on the project, said the sea grass was going to be transplanted to the east of the project and coral to the west. She said studies show that 80 percent of transplanted sea grass lives. The transplanted coral would be placed on the same type of hard surface from which it was being taken.
Marlon Hibbert, director of Coastal Zone Management, said the impact on water clarity would be temporary.
Jackson said there were two wrecks in the area that could be of historical significance. Also, Dempsey said they were still waiting to get a report back on what remained of those wrecks after the hurricanes of 2017.
Anthony Ottley, interim acting CEO of the West Indian Co., said the port projects were “desperately needed” because the numbers of visitors to the territory had been dropping dramatically in recent years.