The deadline has changed repeatedly, but the V.I. Port Authority now has plans firmly in place to tow all derelict vehicles from its gravel lot next to the Theovald E. Moorehead Marine Terminal near Cruz Bay, officials reported.
In the week after the St. John July 4th Festival, the lot will be closed to all vehicles for at least several days to allow the Port Authority to install new fencing and make other repairs, according to Matthew Berry, VIPA’s marine manager for St. Thomas and St. John.
The closing will be the first in a series that will eventually lead to an upgraded, paid-parking facility, which has been in the works since 2015.
On St. Thomas, the bottom level of the long-awaited parking structure next to the ferry terminal in Red Hook opened on time to provide parking for island hoppers to attend the opening of Carnival Village Friday evening.
The bottom level of the parking facility at Red Hook has space for 75 vehicles and another six spots that are handicapped accessible. Contractors are completing work on the upper level which is expected to open soon, according to Monifa Marrero Brathwaite, public information officer with the V.I. Port Authority.
During the July 4th Festival on St. John, VIPA is charging a flat rate of $10 a day for the Red Hook facility. VIPA is also operating a temporary parking lot west of Ivanna Eudora Kean High School for $10 a day. The East End Taxi Association will provide shuttle service to the ferry for $2 each way.
On St. John, Bell’s towing has been contracted by the Port Authority to clear the gravel lot of unclaimed vehicles immediately after the July 4th Festival ends. Vehicles will be towed to Bell’s lot in an area called “country stretch” where they will be stored until they can be barged off island.
The gravel lot, which now accommodates more than 150 vehicles, became a dumping ground for abandoned cars following Hurricane Irma in 2017. On Dec. 24, 2018, a count showed that more than 20 of the 143 cars parked there were too broken down to operate. More than a dozen derelict cars remain, including four damaged Police Department vehicles.
The Port Authority has removed abandoned vehicles from the gravel lot twice since the hurricane, Brathwaite said.
Last week, residents and visitors parked at the gravel lot returned to find notices on their windshields announcing that vehicles “parked alongside the fences” had to be removed by owners by Friday, June 21, “for the construction of fences and clean up process at the Theovald E. Moorehead dock. Failure to do so will result in vehicles being removed at owners expense,” the notices stated.
The notices sent ripples of concern through the community. Residents and tourists park at the lot on a daily basis when they run errands in Cruz Bay or catch the ferry to St. Thomas. Some business owners store their vehicles there for days at a time.
Another notice was sent out by the Port Authority on June 21 warning owners of derelict vehicles that they had until Friday, June 28, 2019 to remove their vehicles.
“The derelict vehicles have been tagged by VIPA Police and vehicle owners were given a seven-day notice to remove their vehicles,” said Marrero Brathwaite.
Virgin Islands law states that before a derelict car can be towed, it must be tagged and remain in place for at least seven days. Once it has been removed, it must be stored on island for 30 days before it can be sold at auction or dismantled.
The Port Authority’s efforts to remove derelict vehicles is separate from the St. John island administrator’s campaign to remove broken-down cars from public areas. That initiative has resulted in more than 30 cars being removed and dismantled.
The closing of the gravel lot after carnival will allow VIPA to replace the fencing required by the Coast Guard because of the lot’s proximity to the Moorehead barge terminal in Enighed Pond.
VIPA also plans to clean up debris from the gravel lot, including eight fallen light poles, and make repairs on the remaining lights, Berry said.
Berry said VIPA considered closing half the gravel lot at a time but decided against it.
“You know how construction goes. There will be dump trucks, bulldozers moving around. There will be gravel flying all over the place. We’ve got to inconvenience people for a short time, but we’re trying to make things better,” he said. “We apologize for the inconvenience.”
In the next several months, VIPA will put out a request for bids to pave and secure the lot and then operate it as a paid parking facility, part of a plan initiated by Carlton Dowe when he previously directed the Port Authority.
Dowe was rehired this week to direct the Port Authority after being dismissed by former Gov. Kenneth Mapp in December 2016.
Berry said that it was merely a coincidence that Dowe was returning to the Port Authority as efforts to upgrade the gravel lot were finally underway.
Berry, who was appointed VIPA’s district marine manager in April, said he has been busy touring Port Authority facilities and reactivating projects that had been put on hold since the hurricane in 2017. He said plans are also underway to install new cleats and fenders at the St. John ferry dock.