Facing a subpoena and sustained criticism by members of the Legislature, Virgin Islands Port Authority Director David Mapp appeared before a Senate panel on Thursday, defending his absence from multiple hearings and answering lawmakers’ concerns about the territory’s ports.
The Senate Committee on Homeland Security, Justice and Public Safety, chaired by Senator-at-Large Brian Smith, met at the Cleone Creque Legislative Hall on St. John to hear testimony from Mapp and other VIPA officials. One topic was the $1.4 million fine initiated by the Federal Aviation Administration against VIPA because of a failure to meet federal port safety and hazard mitigation standards. The hearing, however, began with lawmakers confronting the VIPA director about his failure to appear before the senate multiple times.
“It was not intentional,” Mapp responded.
Mapp, brother of Gov. Kenneth Mapp, failed to appear at a Sept. 20 hearing of the same senate panel at which he was scheduled to give lawmakers an overview of the FAA findings. No correspondence arrived from Port Authority regarding Mapp’s absence. According to Smith, his staff delivered the invitation dated Sept. 6 to Port Authority, where it was signed for by a member of Port Authority staff.
In a letter to the the committee dated Oct. 16, however, Mapp stated: “In truth, your letter of invitation was never passed on to VIPA’s Chief of Staff and was somehow misplaced from the receptionist desk where it was delivered.”
Mapp also failed to appear before the Senate Finance Committee on Sept. 17 because he was attending a Seatrade conference in Europe, but he sent Damian Cartwright, assistant executive director at VIPA, on his behalf. Mapp stated in the same letter that he could not accept an invitation by the Senate to a Sept. 6 hearing because the FAA required his attendance in Atlanta at a hearing involving enforcement issues in the territory’s airports.
Mapp also addressed the terminations that have occurred in the two years since he took the helm of the agency, saying some of them reflected positions that were eliminated because of redundancy. Some members of the staff also opted to retire or take up other promising offers outside the agency, according to Mapp.
On the matter of the FAA’s concern, however, Mapp said little, referring lawmakers back to his Aug. 15 letter that stated “the root causes of the FAA’s concern, includes but it’s not limited to matters involving specific VIPA personnel, and I opine that discussion of such matters in an open session would be highly inappropriate.”
“To be clear, there is no fine. There is a threat of a fine,” said Mapp.
Mapp also disclosed that there is “ongoing litigation of secrecy terms of VIPA’s marine and aviation security programs.”
The settlement process with the FAA is ongoing, said Mapp, and one of its requirements is the hiring of Territorial Director of Aviation Operations Mitchell Todman. Todman disclosed he is earning $102,000 annually to provide oversight and monitoring of the airports and report to the federal authorities.
Sen. Myron Jackson (D-STT) said community members were concerned that the $230 million enhancement of the St. Thomas airport would turn out to be “a white elephant that we can’t maintain and take care of.”
Mapp dismissed the idea, saying the Cyril E. King Airport needs the improvements. The terminal is undersized for the existing capacity of seats coming into St. Thomas, he said. In addition, both airports were not designed to properly accommodate changes in federal requirements that stem from heightened alert to potential acts of terror, according to Mapp.
Mapp also updated lawmakers on delayed dredging to allow smaller cruise ships to dock at the Gallows Bay Port. The permit application to dredge has been bogged down at the Army Corps of Engineers for four years, he said. Complaints by residents who are concerned about the dredging’s environmental impact also contribute to the delay, said Mapp.
VIPA’s St. Croix Port Police Chief Louis Flynn also addressed airport security. According to Flynn, surveillance and inspections occur daily. His team logs any incidents and notifies authorities, he said, and rectifies issues in a timely manner in compliance with federal mandates.
VIPA currently depends on the V.I. Police Department to handle bomb threats, according to Flynn. Mapp reported that both airports could soon see trained canines, with the authority having recently purchased a bomb-sniffing dog for St. Croix valued at $40,000 for only $9,000.
Mapp said VIPA also paid $9,000 for a drug-sniffing canine valued at $90,000 for the St. Thomas airport.
Sen. Alicia “Chucky” Hansen (I-STX), however, said she was unsatisfied with the authority’s performance, criticizing the authority for the condition of the Cyril E. King Airport. Hansen pointed to non-operational conveyor belts, “debris and wires still hanging” at the facility, and the air-conditioning issues that Mapp said were fixed over the weekend
“You should be embarrassed by it,” Hansen told Mapp. “It means you can’t push to get things done. Over a year? It’s impossible. If you weren’t the governor’s brother, you would have gotten fired a long time ago.”