Feb. 7, 2005 The V.I. Port Authority is proposing marine rate increases that average 8 percent over five years, director Darlan Brin said Monday at a hearing held at the St. John Legislature building. In some case, the Port Authority hopes to change the way it calculates charges.
Brin said the increases would raise a projected $13 million in 2006. The agency needs the money to maintain its facilities and build new ones.
While the Port Authority called the hearing so that the ferry, barge, tour, and other companies that face increases could have their say, none did so. Only about a half-dozen people attended, and most were government officials and residents with questions to ask.
"I thought we would hear what the proposed rates are," St. John resident Gilbert Sprauve said.
Brin told him that there were numerous rates and charges. He said the proposal was available at the St. John marine office and the St. John Administrator's office. However, St. John Administrator Julien Harley said that the copy only came in the Monday morning mail, which didn't give people any time to review it.
"All week, people have been calling the office," Harley said.
Brin said ferry companies now pay 30 cents per foot of vessel length per day at each dock they use. A 25 cents per passenger fee was approved, but never implemented.
Under the proposed increase in rates, they will pay a flat dockage fee of $450 per month on vessels with a capacity of under 100 passengers. The fee rises to $675 for vessels with a 100- to 200-passengers capacity. Those that carry more than 200 passengers will pay $900 per month. The companies will also pay a wharfage fee of $25 a month per passenger based on the total capacity of the vessel.
Ferry boats come in numerous sizes, but Harley said most carry passenger loads of "100 and change and 200 and change."
Barges also currently pay 30 cents per foot. They are also supposed to pay a $1 per passenger fee, but Brin said the Port Authority has been unable to collect that money from the companies.
Under the proposed increase, barges of less than 10 gross tons will pay $450 per month docking fee. Those over 10 gross tons, will pay, $900 per month. The wharfage fee will run $220 per month for all sizes.
Brin said that the three barge companies that operate between St. Thomas and St. John each owe the Port Authority about $40,000. He said the ferry companies were up-to-date with their payments.
He said the Port Authority is expanding its collection department to collect the outstanding barge fees plus those from other companies that are behind in their payments.
"We do have a large outstanding receivables," he said.
In other St. John-related Port Authority news, Brin said the chain link fences at the Cruz Bay and Red Hook ferry docks will be replaced with ornamental fences. He said the Port Authority has received federal funding to make the switch. The chain link fences were meant as a temporary measure to meet homeland security mandates.
Sprauve complained that the large number of construction workers taking the ferry from Red Hook to Cruz Bay and back was inconveniencing the regular passengers.
"The boats are overloaded," he said.
He also noted that the Port Authority does not charge people to use the dinghy dock at the Cruz Bay ferry dock.
"You are not getting anything out of the dinghy dock, and it serves a certain clientele every single day," he said.
He suggested that the Port Authority impose equity when it implements increased charges.
Brin said the Port Authority's governing board must vote on the new marine rate structure. He expected the board would take up the matter in the near future.
He said if anyone has any written testimony they would like the board to consider, they should fax it to Brin at 774-0025.
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