VIPA Officials Defend Direct Collection

V.I. Port Authority (VIPA) officials explained the agency’s need to be financially self-sufficient and listened to concerns and complaints from senators and the public about recent hikes in VIPA fees at a May 23 hearing of the Senate Committee on Government Operations.

Senate committee chairman Senator Roosevelt David wanted to know if the barge companies were experiencing hardship as a result of the VIPA fee increases at the Red Hook Marine Terminal.

“We were experiencing a hardship before,” Cheryl Boynes-Jackson of Boyson Inc. and Ocean Link Enterprises said of the former system — which required the barge companies to collect fees for VIPA without compensation.

Fee Increases Called Hardship
The increased fees for passenger vehicles — from the previous $2 to $3 and $4 — are “a hardship for the general public,” said Boynes-Jackson. “They are not traversing as much as they used to.”

“I feel the hardship is being created for the community,” Boynes-Jackson said. “I don’t think it was right to take it to $4. Maybe increments.”

“The Port Authority is in no way trying to create hardship for anyone,” VIPA Board Chairman Robert O’Connor Jr. told the V.I. Senate Commit-tee on Government Operations.

Committee chairman David asked if VIPA could reach a “happy medium” on a commuter fee for barge travel by residents. Barge Commuter Rate Contemplated
“VIPA is looking into a commuter rate for barges,” O’Connor said.

“I don’t know if it will be a happy medium,” O’Connor said. “Hopefully, we’ll get one.”

Residents objected to being charged a “departure fee within our own country, ” St. John business owner Jack Brown told the senate committee.

“I don’t expect to have to pay a departure fee,” Brown said of the VIPA vehicle charge. “It’s like putting a toll booth on Centerline Road between Coral Bay and Cruz Bay.”

“We are charging fees for vehicles crossing the dock,” said Brin — an explanation that didn’t sit well with one senator.

“These people really aren’t using the dock; they are using the barge,” said Sen. Terrence “Positive” Nelson of St. Croix.

Nelson had previously objected to paying the VIPA fee for bringing a government vehicle to attend a May 17 hearing of the same committee on St. John.

“I don’t think it’s economically feasible for residents to be paying this,” Nelson said.

“It’s a choice,” said Boynes-Jackson of Boyson Inc. “The public should have a right to choose to ride the ferry or take the barge.”

Rates Set After Professional Study
Brin defended his agency’s fees.

“We didn’t just pull these numbers out of the air,” Brin said. “Our rates and charges are supposed to be compensatory.”

“Those are the numbers the Port Authority has to deal with,” Brin said after giving senators a brief financial rundown of VIPA. “The Port Authority board has to deal with the realities.”

“They have a responsibility to make sure the ports operate in the black,” Brin continued. “There are no subsidies.”

VIPA Pays for Government Services
In fact, VIPA pays for all the government services it receives, according to Brin.

“There are no fees we’re exempted from by the government of the V.I.,” Brin said. “The only thing we don’t pay is taxes.”

“They (the V.I. government) even take out five to eight percent from the (U.S.) Customs fees,” Brin said.

U.S. Custom fees are remanded to the V.I. government general fund and then passed on by the V.I. government to the Port Authority, Brin explained.

“They owe us $1 million for the past eight months,” Brin said. “So we’ve had to limp along while the government of the V.I. withholds money.”

Boynes-Jackson addressed the committee on behalf of Boyson Inc. and Ocean Link Enterprises and Anecia Lettsome Sewer represented Love City Car Ferries Inc.

Meeting Delayed by Power Outage
The start of the 6:30 p.m. meeting was delayed one hour as the Water and Power Authority crew worked to restore power to the Legislature building in Cruz Bay after a power line fell on Hill Street near the building.

Also testifying before the senate committee were residents Steve Black, Lorelei Monsanto and Anetha Barton.

Senators present included Nelson and Ronald Russell from St. Croix, and David, Adlah “Foncie” Donastorg, Shawn-Michael Malone and Liston Davis from St. Thomas. St. John Senator-at-Large Craig Barshinger did not attend.