Passengers riding between St. John and St. Thomas will soon enjoy two new ferries plying the Pillsbury Sound.
Governor John deJongh announced last week that the Virgin Islands received $3 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for new ferries.
The federal stimulus funds combined with $1.5 million from the Federal Highway Administration Federal Aid Program and approximately $644,000 from the Ferry Boat Discretionary Program will be used for the purchase of two ferryboats, one each for the current franchise operators, explained Department Public Works Commissioner Darryl Smalls.
“We will be working closely with the two companies, Varlack Ventures and Transportation Services, to develop the design specifications for the new ferries that can best serve those residents who ply the waters between St. Thomas and St. John whether for work or recreation or those who simply rely on the service as part of their way of life,” said Smalls.
The grant was part $60 million in federal funds awarded to 19 states to improve ferry service and save and create jobs, according to a U.S. Department of Transportation press release.
“The Virgin Islands made a strong enough case to secure $3 million to upgrade the level of ferry services provided our residents,” said deJongh.
The governor said he looks forward to utilizing all monies made available to the Virgin Islands through the federal stimulus as a means of stimulating the economy while at the same time, enhancing already established programs and commencing new programs and initiatives that will enhance the way of live for all Virgin Islanders.
It remained unclear what impact the stimulus funds would have on the Public Service Commission’s on-going ferry rate investigation. The public utility regulating body in April, approved a rate hike for most ferry runs between St. Thomas and St. John for the exclusive franchisees, Varlack Ventures and
Both ferry companies claimed they had been operating in the red for years and had needed the extra fares for routine improvements. V.I. Unity Day Group members filed a complaint with the PSC, which voted to stay the increase until the matter was further investigated.
With the new stimulus funds, the rate increase should be looked at more closely, according to V.I. Unity Day Group transportation committee co-chairperson.
“First of all, getting new ferries will be awesome,” said Lewis. “I don’t know what this means as far as the rate investigation. The rate increase as it was did not include any subsidies.”
“So if this the case, hopefully something can be done to include the subsidy,” Lewis said. “Hopefully this stimulus will be taken into consideration.”
The V.I. Senate is hosting a Committee of the Whole meeting on Monday, July 20, at the Cruz Bay Legislature building at 6 p.m. which will focus in part of the ferry situation. Lewis urged all St. John residents to come out and share their opinions.
“St. John has to raise their voice,” said Lewis. “People should come out, meet their senators and let them know what a vital situation this is. It could be a make or break point to be able to live on St. John.”