With rain pouring down outside, the crowd gathered for the opening ceremony of the V.I. Port Authority’s Urman Victor Fredericks Marine Terminal enjoyed being sheltered from the storm in the comfortable new Red Hook ferry passenger facility.
About 200 residents from St. John and St. Thomas, including all 12 of Fredericks’ children, came out to celebrate the ribbon cutting of the $10 million structure on Tuesday afternoon, September 24.
The terminal, built by Island Roads Corp. includes shops, a bar, food vendors and a covered open-air waiting area with benches.
British Virgin Islands and St. John ferry ticket counters are located inside the building as well.
Testament to Future
Named after a local marine industry trailblazer, the 9,500-square foot facility is a testament to the future of the Virgin Islands, explained Governor John deJongh.
“This to me represents more than what we did here in terms of construction,” said deJongh. “It represents to me where I think the Virgin Islands is going overall. This is a recognition by our community of how important our marine facilities are.”
The structure should also be a source of pride for residents, explained VIPA governing board chairman Bob O’Connor.
“This is a happy day for the Port Authority,” said O’Connor, who acted as master of ceremonies for the grand opening. “We look forward to the use of this facility by everyone and the ability to manage this facility properly so the people of the Virgin Islands will be proud.”
“This is not about the Port Authority, but the people of the Virgin Islands,” O’Connor continued. “This is a big improvement which the users will be very happy with — it fits the bill.”
St. John Administrator Leona Smith agreed.
“I welcome this — it’s a big improvement,” said Smith. “It’s time we had an upgraded facility so we don’t have to stand in the blazing sun or pouring rain.”
The man whose name hangs over the building’s entrances was remembered as a pioneer in the local marine industry from the 1940s through the 1970s.
Captain Urman Victor Fredericks was born in St. Thomas but also lived on St. John for a number of years, where he ran the Caneel Bay Resort ferry in the 1950s and had close friendships with numerous boat captains and Love City residents.
In the 1960s, Fredericks started the first barge traveling between the VI and Puerto Rico. Recognizing the marine potential in St. Thomas’ East End, Fredericks cleared the land that is now the Red Hook parking lot in 1966.
Fredericks passed in 1974, but his spirit was alive at his namesake marine terminal opening ceremony where his heirs were presented with a plaque commemorating the occasion.
Complaints About Fee
While the afternoon was upbeat, residents complained about two factors — a new 50 cent user fee and the lack of a U.S. Immigration and Customs clearance office.
The fee, which will be charged only to out-going passengers once turnstiles are installed, is needed for maintaining the structure, explained O’Connor.
“The user fee is needed to maintain and improve the property,” O’Connor said. “The property is built, but that is not the end of the story. Too many times we build things and they are not maintained — we don’t want that to happen here.”
VIPA Depends on Fees
Construction of the marine terminal was financed partially by a $2.5 million Federal Highway Administration GARVEE bond and a $1.5 million grant from the Federal Economic Development Administration.
The difference was covered by VIPA’s capital project funds and the self-supported agency does not receive government appropriations, according to O’Connor.
“It’s nice to not pay anything, but sometimes you have to,” he said. “The Port Authority works on revenues from fees. We don’t get appropriations, so we need those fees.”
Senator Liston Davis lauded the completion of the new facility, but maintained that a U.S. Customs facility was needed.
“I receive phone calls every day from residents of the BVI,” said Davis. “I have urged and I will continue to fight for an Immigration and Customs here. It’s unfortunate that it was not part of the over-all design in the first place.”
BVI residents traveling to St. Thomas will continue to be inconvenienced by clearing through U.S. Customs on St. John before heading to Red Hook, according to Davis.
“People have a strong resentment in terms of inconvenience when they have to stop in St. John for clearance,” said the senator. “I will continue to push for this.”
The Party Continues
VIPA Deputy Executive Director Kenn Hobson and a representative for Delegate to Congress Donna Christensen also spoke at the ceremony.
Eight members of the Charlotte Amalie High School band performed the U.S. National Anthem and the V.I. March and Ajani Corniero played the steel pan. Long-time VIPA employee Rivo E. Hodge also sang a moving rendition of “The Way We Were.”
The Ah We Band kept the crowd entertained late into the afternoon as people enjoyed complimentary food, refreshments and even Cruzan rum and Absolut vodka samples.
PSC Raises Concerns About User Fee at Red Hook Ferry Terminal
The Public Services Commission, represented by its chair Alecia Wells, Commissioner M. Thomas Jackson, general counsel and staff, has met with officials from the V.I. Port Authority and the ferry boat franchises to discuss the quality and delivery of services at the ferry docks on St. Thomas and St. John.
During those discussions, Wells, a resident of St. John who relies on these services daily, raised concerns about the newly-installed turnstiles at VIPA’s Red Hook passenger terminal and unfairness of the implementation of a VIPA fee for passengers boarding there, according to a PSC press release.
While the PSC does not have the authority to regulate this specific issue at Red Hook, as a government agency with shared jurisdiction over ferry services it was incumbent upon the PSC to identify those factors which contribute to customer satisfaction and service, Wells emphasized in the meeting, according to the press release.
VIPA officials have said the turnstiles have been put in place to defray the construction and maintenance costs of the newly remodeled Red Hook passenger facility.
Customers, however, were already concerned about the level of service provided by the ferry franchises and the costs associated with inter-island travel, Wells explained to VIPA officials.
It could have a dampening effect if customers, in addition to ferry tickets and porter fees, have to pay an additional fee to simply gain access to the facilities, according to Wells. Additionally, it remains unclear how long these fees will remain in effect, if they will be incrementally increased, and if so, by how much, Wells added.
During those meetings, the PSC chair asked VIPA to reconsider this course of action, according to the press release.
It is incumbent upon VIPA to ensure that, in addition to recouping the cost of construction, it also considers the needs of the customers whose patronage is crucial to the legislative mandate and goal of promoting inter-island travel, according to Wells.
The PSC looks forward to working together with VIPA to protect and promote the welfare of the traveling public, according to the press release.