Barge Operators Speak Out at VIPA Meeting – Companies Force Delay in Vote to Add Additional Provider

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Carmen Hedrington from Global Marine, Inc. raised concerns about VIPA port schedules as a July 20 board meeting at the Cruz Bay Battery as she objected to the board allowing an additional board company to operate between St. John and St. Thomas. Neither of Global Marine’s barges, Roanoke or General II, are currently in operation.

St. John Tradewinds photo by Judi Shimel.

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Members of the V.I. Port Authority governing board delayed a ratification vote that would have given Varlack Ventures permission to initiate barge service between St. Thomas and St. John.

The decision to put off the vote and open a dialogue over the matter occurred at the board’s scheduled monthly meeting, hosted at the Battery in Cruz Bay on July 20.

Operators of the three companies already providing service appeared at the meeting to voice opposition to a plan allowing a fourth company into what they called an already crowded field.

The discussion comes at a time when only one of the three companies is active, while the other two are sidelined; one for financial reasons, the other under federal regulation.

Delays, break down and interrupted schedules over the past few months have made the task of moving vehicles, goods and services difficult or impossible.

One Barge Running

In the latest development, mechanical problems crippled the Island Vic last week, one of the two remaining barges left in service owned by Love City Car Ferries.

Representatives of Boyson Inc., Love City Car Ferries and Global Marine Inc., were granted time during the meeting to voice opposition to a poll vote that would have given Varlack Venture the go ahead to operate.

On July 13 VIPA Executive Director Carlton Dowe wrote to board members, asking them to indicate their approval of granting Varlack Ventures’ request to provide barge service. Their preference would be finalized with a vote taken during the meeting at the Battery, he wrote.

At the Battery meeting VIPA board member Claude Walker appealed to VIPA Chairman Miguel Cintron to permit the barge operators time to speak, although a discussion was not part of the scheduled agenda.

“They’re here,” Walker said. “We can hear from them. Then we can decide whether to ratify.”

Cintron allowed board members to vote on granting each company time to make a brief presentation.

Attorney Lisa Michelle Komives spoke on behalf of Love City owners Lew and Anice Sewer. Her clients had grave concerns about the speed with which VIPA appeared to move forward with ratification.

“It’s something that should be discussed at an open meeting with the Virgin Islands Port Authority where the public can comment and the press can be present,” Komives said.

The lawyer also pointed out that VIPA offered limited schedules for barges to operate on, which meant when run times were covered, there was no room for others to do business.

“Let’s think about it as a pie,” said Komives. “There are only so many schedules to be run. There are three existing companies. If another company were to come in there’s not going to be enough pieces of pie for everyone to exist.”.

Noel Boynes Jr., of Boyson, Inc., Carmen Hedrington of Global Marine and Anecia Sewer of Love City Car Ferries called the scheduled action hasty. They said they objected to seeing another company being given a chance to compete for a limited number of weekly barge runs.

“I think the board needs to allow us to make a formal presentation,” Hendrington said. “We need to be heard.”

Boynes made the briefest remarks.

“We stand in solidarity with the other barge companies,” he said. “We agree with what Ms. Sewer’s lawyer has said.”

For years Boyson Inc. dominated the St. John barge industry but financial problems and court actions have slowed the company’s progress lately.

Hedrington’s two vessels, the Roanoke and the General II, are currently inactive. The Roanoke hasn’t run for months. The General II came off the run in June for a visit to dry dock prior to its annual required U.S. Coast Guard inspection. Problems uncovered during that inspection have prevented General II’s from return to service.

The owner says repairs are under way.

An anticipated $17,000 visit to dry dock had turned into a $153,000 bill, Hedrington said.

In spite of Global Marine’s difficulties, increasing competition would make it harder for them to get back on their feet financially, said Hedrington.

Boyson Inc’s vessel, the Mr. B was seized in January by order of a federal bankruptcy judge.

There was also the issue of schedule assignments. Love City Car Ferries co-owner Lew Sewer, after the meeting, said his vessel Cap’t Vic once had a VIPA schedule assignment. But in recent months no assignment was granted. Repeated calls to VIPA to find out why, have gone unanswered, he said.

VIPA Executive Director Dowe said he has met with all three companies and has expressed both concern and dissatisfaction with barge operations between St. Thomas and St. John.

The Varlack Ventures proposal was being considered because of practicalities, Dowe added.

“The Port Authority’s interest is not to provide service,” said Dowe. “It’s to make sure that commerce continues.”

Following the presentations, the board voted to delay ratification of the poll vote and to schedule a discussion about barge services at the next scheduled monthly VIPA meeting.

VIPA board member Jose Penn, a St. John businessman, said he hoped that future discussions will include routes, schedules and proposed solutions.