Carlton Dowe, executive director of the V.I. Port Authority, discussed the upcoming construction schedule of the Henry Rohlsen Airport on St. Croix at a community meeting Tuesday evening and said VIPA will be at the point of breaking ground around the fourth quarter of 2024, with completion at the end of 2026.
“We’ve outgrown the 30-year-old airport,” he said, adding that the 10,000-foot runway can accommodate any aircraft built so far.
Dowe said Rohlsen and Cyril E. King Airport on St. Thomas will be developed at the same time. The first requests for participation were issued in December after VIPA met with and requested input from federal and local government officials, airline representatives, the Chambers of Commerce on St.Thomas and St. Croix, and various unions.
After a bidding deadline of February 2023, a short list of four contractors was named last month. From the list, VIPA will select one partner to provide infrastructure financing, terminal redevelopment, airport operations and maintenance at both of the territory’s airports. The companies selected are: das International, Vantage Airport Group Ltd., Vinci Airports, and VIports Partners (Aecon, Tikehau Star Infra and Avports).
While VIPA will own both facilities and be eligible to receive grants, the “risk of construction and operation is transferred to the private sector,” Dowe said.
Once the final proposal is selected, the company and VIPA will enter into a long-term lease and development agreement for the terminal facilities and a long-term operation and maintenance agreement for airfield and land operations.
Answering a question from the audience at Tuesday’s town hall at the Rohlsen Airport, Dowe said neither he, nor any member of the board or staff has any dealings with the companies selected, as far as he knows.
The audience asked several questions that Dowe said he was unable to answer until discussions took place with the partners and final agreements were signed. One person asked if small businesses will be allowed as vendors and another asked if there will be a cargo facility. The director said both questions would be open for discussion and with 400 acres around the airport there will be opportunities for shopping facilities and accommodations. He also answered that he didn’t know the percentage of local contractors specified for each project or if solar energy will be included.
A couple of people asked about the workings of the P3 — as the public/private partnership is known. Dowe said the financing is the advantage because the companies will invest several million dollars in the projects. He emphasized several times that there would be no layoffs of VIPA employees even though the funding entities will manage the facilities.
Dowe didn’t exactly answer a question about whether revenue would be lost by VIPA with private companies operating the airports.
“Everyone must benefit,” he said.
Community meetings will also be held at the Rotary West Meeting Hall on Wednesday at 6 p.m. and on Thursday at the VIPA Administrative Building on St. Thomas, also at 6 p.m., with video conferencing provided for attendees at the Legislative Annex in Cruz Bay on St. John.
Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story misstated the amount that partners will invest in the airports. It is several million dollars, not $700 million. Additionally, VIports Partners includes Aecon, Tikehau Star Infra and Avports, not Aveports. Another short-listed company is das International, not daa International.