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Featured / News / Top Stories / Tourism / Travel / Virgin Islands / September 28, 2018

Governor Kenneth Mapp and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Deputy Secretary Pamela Hughes Patenaud on Thursday announced the formal execution of a $243 million grant agreement to help the U.S. Virgin Islands recover from the 2017 storms.

During the press conference, held in Washington, Mr. Mapp revealed the projects that will receive funding from the $243 million. They include roadwork, housing, facilities for the elderly, and projects to grow the territory’s tourism product by accommodating large cruise vessels on St. Thomas, and smaller, luxury cruise ships in Gallows Bay, St. Croix.

“This first tranche of the $1.8 billion of $243 million that we signed and is now giving the Virgin Islands access is going to jump-start a number of initiatives in terms of housing, infrastructure and the economy,” the governor said Thursday afternoon. “This tranche includes funds for the dredging for the Charlotte Amalie harbor to allow the quantum and oasis class vessels, which will bring thousands more cruise visitors into the territory, as well as dredging of the Gallows Bay channel on St. Croix for cruise ships in Christiansted.”

He added, “We’re going to launch through the Virgin Islands Housing Finance Authority a number of home initiatives, principally in Estate Whisper on St. Thomas, Estate Barren Spot on St. Croix, and other unmet housing needs.”

Additionally, the $243 million “provides $30 million to begin this process of converting our main thoroughfares on the islands from road systems that are just not properly built, to highway systems equivalent to [Department of Transportation] standards,” Mr. Mapp said.

He then spoke of a project he described as close to his heart. “A pet project of mine and most important for me as part of this entire recovery, is this first tranche of money begins the process to allow us to modernize and build real home facilities for our aging population.

The governor spoke of rebuilding Herbert Grigg Home for the Aged on St. Thomas along with the government’s plan to acquire SeaView on St. Thomas. He also spoke of the demolition of the Queen Louise Home for the Aged to rebuild modern, independent living facilities for seniors, assisted living facilities for individuals with disabilities and seniors who need continuing care on a daily basis but can live in an independent setting. Mr. Mapp also plan on constructing in-bed, long-term care facilities at SeaView and Herbert Grigg.

Cruise Ships in Gallows Bay

Luxury cruise ships, those smaller than the general vessels carrying thousands of passengers but commanding greater purchasing power, could be docking at the Gallows Bay Port  — owned and operated by the Virgin Island Port Authority (V.I.P.A.) — by next year.

That’s according to V.I.P.A. Assistant Executive Director Damian Cartwright, speaking with The Consortium earlier this year during a board meeting.

Mr. Cartwright envisioned the Gallows Bay Port being a hub that could help drive dollars into the downtown Christiansted and Gallows Bay areas, lifting the fortunes of currently struggling businesses while attracting new ones. The authority has plans to completely revamp the area to facilitate such activity.

The governor has secured funding for the project, so the money issue is out of the way. But there are still a number of obstacles that could stall progress altogether.

The Army Corps of Engineers (U.S.A.C.E.) must approve a permit to allow for the dredging of the Schooner Bay, as the ships will not be able to dock at the port if the dredging does not occur. In April, Mr. Cartwright said he expected to receive the permit from U.S.A.C.E. by May, but four months later, V.I.P.A. has yet to receive the approval.

“I can’t start until I get the permit,” Mr. Cartwright said. “Once I get the permit and can assure that I get the commitment in place for the rest of the funding, then I advertise for bid.” Mr. Cartwright said the bidding process takes roughly thirty days. Once the companies have placed their bids, an evaluation and selection process is then employed. The final step is board approval, he said, with the entire process from advertising bids to board approval taking three months.

“Typically, when we get [board approval] and issue an NTP (a letter to the contractor stating that work can begin), really in a 9-month timeframe the project will be completed,” Mr. Cartwright said. By his estimates, the Gallows Bay Port revamp should be completed in just over a year.

There’s also the issue of finding contractors. Mr. Cartwright said because of the abundance of construction work not only in the territory but in Puerto Rico as well, contractors are hard to find. And even when you are able to find them, he said, their prices have appreciated because of high demand.

Finally, in order for the Gallows Bay Port to become a true hub for high-end cruise ships, the cargo operation currently at the port must be moved to the Gordon A. Finch Molasses Pier on the south shore of St. Croix, to the west of the Limetree Bay facility. Mr. Cartwright said V.I.P.A. has been performing major improvements to the south shore facility to move the cargo operations there. However, Mr. Cartwright said in April that the authority had lost confidence in the contractor performing work at the time.

While the aforementioned could potentially delay the development of the Gallows Bay Port as an attractive port of call for luxury cruise lines, Mr. Cartwright was optimistic that the work would eventually start and be completed. He spoke of private sector partnerships as a conduit for expansion and growth of the area, stating that once the cargo operation is moved, the properties surrounding the port will become prime real estate, essentially creating a new market.

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Ernice Gilbert
I wear many hats, I suppose, but the one which fits me best would be journalism, second to that would be radio personality, thirdly singer/songwriter and down the line. I've been the Editor-In-Chief at my videogames website, Gamesthirst, for over 5 years, writing over 7,000 articles and more than 2 million words. I'm also very passionate about where I live, the United States Virgin Islands, and I'm intent on making it a better place by being resourceful and keeping our leaders honest. VI Consortium was birthed out of said desire, hopefully my efforts bear fruit. Reach me at [email protected].

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