Barge Talks Continue at latest VIPA Meeting

ST. THOMAS — Officials of the Port Authority Board made room for members of the marine industry to air their concerns during a closed door committee meeting.

The Tuesday, July 26, meeting of the Port Authority Governing Board Committee of the Whole was held in response to the first exchange between the board and St. John barge operators on July 20.

On the table at the time was consideration of a poll vote that would have allowed Varlack Ventures to put a barge in service between St. Thomas and St. John. Aberdeen

Earlier this month VIPA board members were asked by Executive Director Carlton Dowe to indicate their willingness to approve a St. John transportation company to acquire a barge and operate between Cruz Bay and Red Hook. Ratification of that poll vote in favor of Varlack Ventures was supposed to occur at the July 20 meeting.

But operators of three existing barge companies — Love City Car Ferries, Boyson Inc. and Global Marine — appeared at the board meeting, voicing objections and demanding a public hearing.

VIPA Board Chairman Roberto Cintron agreed to postpone the vote and hold further discussions. Those discussions, according to Dowe, were on the agenda for Tuesday’s committee meeting.

Again, barge operators appeared at the Port Authority conference room on St. Thomas, along with representatives of Varlack Ventures, Senator-At-Large Almando Liburd and St. John Administrator Camille Paris, Jr.

At that point, committee members decided to open their meeting to the public and again let the interested parties have their say.

Problems with barge service between St. Thomas and St. John began in January, when the Boyson Inc. barge, the Mr. B. was siezed by federal marshals as part of a proceeding in bankruptcy court. Vessels operated by Love City and Global Marine filled in the schedule. But by June Global Marine’s vessel, General II, was sidelined for dry dock and repairs ordered by the Coast Guard after a mandatory inspection.

Love City’s vessel, Capt’n Vic, was briefly taken off the run in the last week of June when inspectors cited three deficiencies. Company owner Lew Sewer said cooperation between his company and the Coast Guard allowed repairs to be made quickly, re-inspected and returned to service within hours.

A second Love City Vessel, Island Vic, was also allowed to operate between the islands because of its tuck hauling capability.

A mechanical problem that developed last week left Island Vic incapacitated. Company executives say repairs are in progress.

But the loss of the one vessel allowed to haul trucks left St. John without the ability to move trash and other essentials.

A spokesperson for the St. John administrator said although Paris was off island at the time, he intervened with the Coast Guard and worked out a compromise over the weekend.

At the July 20 meeting, Dowe said the Port Authority was most concerned with making sure commerce between St. Thomas and St. John was able to continue. So did VIPA board member Jose Penn, who also operates Penn Trucking, the St. John business that holds the trash hauling contract with the Waste Management Authority.

Penn serves on the VIPA Board in his capacity as acting chairman of the Economic Development Authority.

Barge operators complain that VIPA has ignored their repeated requests for assignment to a run schedule. They have also expressed the fear that allowing Varlack Ventures to enter into competition with them would limit the economic benefit of providing the service.

Dowe called the talks a, “very open, frank discussion. The board will determine how to move forward.”

Further talks and possible decisions may appear on the agenda of the next scheduled VIPA board meeting during the third week of August, Dowe said.