Senators congratulate Dowe while expressing concerns about the Port Authority
The senator was unanimous on Monday in praising Carlton Dowe, the executive director of the Virgin Islands Port Authority, while raising concerns on a variety of issues.
At a meeting of the Senate Committee on Economic Development and Agriculture, members expressed their approval of the progress VIPA is making on infrastructure projects and expressed admiration for Dowe’s ability to continue paying the 365 administration employees, because income generation capacities have been severely affected âFrom the end of COVID-19.
âYou’re doing a hell of a job,â Senator Javan James told Dowe. But like the other senators present at the hearing, James had some concerns, starting with the state of the road leading to the Sainte-Croix airport. He said it was in poor condition, gave visitors a bad first experience and needed work.
Senator Milton Potter said Dowe deserved kudos for the progress of the infrastructure projects. But he asked Dowe if any progress had been made towards a possible merger of the Port Authority and West Indian Company Ltd.
Dowe said nothing has progressed along the merge line. He was still at the discussion stage. He added that he was optimistic that something could be done before the end of the year.
Senator Kenneth Gittens, who chaired the meeting, had several concerns. He mentioned the long lines of visitors when planes arrive at rush hour. Dowe said airlines were offered incentives to land during off-peak hours, but so far they had not worked. He also said the port authority had no control over the morning customs opening time.
Gittens also saw an issue in the way the St. Thomas Harbor boats appeared to be in the seaplane disembarkation area. He said: âthe boats are everywhereâ. He was told that it was the responsibility of the seaplane pilots to land where the boats were not and that the boats in the regular disembarkation area did not violate any laws.
Gittens was also concerned that port authority police officers were often not in uniform at airports and could not be identified. He was told that the situation had been corrected.
Senator Donna Frett-Gregory suggested, given that so many private jets land at airports in the territory, something be done to educate these visitors about the territory’s economic incentive programs. Gregory’s suggestion was thought-provoking.
The past year has been a tough one for the authority, Dowe said, as tourism has been curtailed.
âThe ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has caused significant loss of income due to reduced travel and a significant decrease in maritime traffic to the territory,â he said. He added that the authority’s board of governors had approved a budget of $ 150.4 million for this 2021 fiscal year, a decrease of 2% from the previous year.
âThe Port Authority’s engineering department is currently managing 21 projects in St. Thomas / St. John District and 15 in St. Croix,â he said.
Ongoing hurricane restoration projects include rebuilding the administration’s purchasing and warehousing facilities, as well as Lindbergh Bay Park in St. Thomas. Both projects are expected to be completed at the end of the summer. In Sainte-Croix, a new office and a goods warehouse are under construction to replace the Wilfred âBombaâ Allick port and transshipment center building, which was damaged by storms.
The St. Thomas airport terminal is about 32 years old, according to Dowe, and was built to accommodate 300,000 passengers. Before the pandemic, he said, the airport handled more than 700,000 travelers a year, often resulting in traffic jams. The authority significantly repaired the storm damage the terminal suffered and also renovated all the toilets on the first floor of the terminal.
Dowe said this was done with an eye on plans to expand and modernize the facility. These plans include the addition of jetted bridges, a new parking lot and a water taxi dock. The project is to be completed in four stages over six years. The first step is the construction of a covered four-level parking lot and a transport center.
The authority manages the territory’s two airports and 14 public seaports. He recently reopened the US Customs and Border Protection terminal in St. John, which was destroyed in the 2017 stors. The new 3,000 square foot terminal is made of concrete and should better withstand storm winds.