The latest skirmish in the St. John barge wars broke out over preparations for Hurricane Lenny.
The battleground was Cruz Bay Creek, where operators of the three barge companies serving St. John and St. Thomas jostled for space to tie down as the hurricane approached. St. John administrator Julien Harley said that one operator defied an order to remove his vessel and that the total number of vessels sheltered in the area exceeded Port Authority mandates.
"It was definitely chaos, and I think it is going to come to a point where it's going to come to a physical altercation," Harley said. "That's stupid. If a boat sinks in the creek, we're screwed, because it's the only port we have."
Capt. Stanley Hedrington, operator of the Tug Life, the most recent entry in St. John's barging business, contends that he was justified in defying the order. The Port Authority wanted him to leave the creek and cross stormy seas to tie up in Red Hook, St. Thomas, in an unsheltered area without a designated mooring, and that would have put his vessel at risk, he said.
Barge operators reportedly ignored the instructions of St. John dockmistress Angela Thomas as she sought to supervise the securing of boats at the Cruz Bay bulkhead Tuesday evening in preparation for Lenny's arrival. There have been reports of other instances of orders being ignored in the two and a half years that competing barge companies have been at each others' throats.
According to Harley, Thomas was trying to enforce a directive for all but two vessels to shelter in the designated safe haven at Water Creek. In the end, none of the barge operators obeyed, and some tied their vessels up at the National Park Service dock near the bulkhead, which was off limits.
"National Park has a rule that they don't want anything to tie up until they complete construction of the new park headquarters," Boyson Inc. barge captain and operations manager Cheryl Boynes-Jackson said. But she said the rule is unreasonable in an emergency and that anyone who secured their vessels at the park facilities was probably justified in doing so.
Harley and V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency deputy director Alvis Christian head St. John's emergency management team. At a team assessment meeting held after Lenny's passage, Harley said the barge operators' actions as final preparations were being made for the vessels in the creek were unacceptable. He said he would take the matter up with Port Authority executive director Gordon Finch.


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