Port Authority Seeks Qualified Contractors for Airport Improvements

Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. joins the Port Authority announcement on Wednesday. (Submitted photo)

Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. and officials of the Port Authority launched a nationwide appeal to contractors interested in an airport modernization project. Both the Henry E. Rohlsen Airport on St. Croix and the Cyril E. King Airport on St. Thomas will be up for improvements under a project officials say they hope to get started by 2026.

At a press conference held at Port Authority headquarters on St. Thomas Wednesday, Bryan and the authority’s executive director offered a detailed rationale for why airport expansion and upgrades are needed.

Board chairman Willard John described a three-step process now underway that officials hope will lead to change. In the first step, the board agreed to pursue a public-private partnership. Executive Director Carlton Dowe played up the advantages of doing so with financial reasons leading the way.

“Private enterprise can fill the gap for funding,” Dowe said.

Wednesday’s announcement about a Request for Qualifications taking effect marks the start of Step 2 in the board’s plan. Dowe set Jan. 12 as the deadline for interested contractors to apply. Then comes a process of vetting those who file.

Step 2 gives Port Authority board members and the staff a chance to determine who among the applicants is qualified to perform, the chairman said. At that point, officials expect to trim the list and then move on to Step 3.

At that point, a Request for Proposals will initiate the bidding process. When that step is completed John said he hopes to answer the questions often posed to him.

“I get so many complaints about when are we going to improve this airport. When are we going to install jet bridges?” he said. Once a bidder is chosen, funding is secured and the work begins, John said he hopes to finally answer those questions.

Both the Henry Rohlsen Airport on St. Croix and the Cyril E. King Airport on St. Thomas sustained infrastructure damage during the passage of Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017. Port Authority Public Information Officer Monife Brathwaite said some repair and mitigation work has already been completed under a federal recovery plan.

But all of those recovery projects have not started yet, and some federal grant funds linked to repair and mitigation are still pending. Both Bryan and Dowe voiced assurances that no federal recovery funds would be used to carry out expansion under the P3 project.

Deputy Tourism Commissioner Alani Henneman said her agency considers the public-private partnership plan important to keeping the Virgin Islands competitive. The governor said airport expansion and modernization has the support of Government House.

“The massive amount of money we’re putting into infrastructure has something to do with all the tourists you see here. There’s a lot of growth in the islands right now,” Bryan said. “We need private parties along the way because we have so much work to do.”

Bryan also called on the public to learn more about the three-step process and other aspects of the airport proposals. An extended comment period is expected to last two years, he said.