Anyone have any clue what’s going on with the new ferries? We don’t, and no one seems to want to talk.
To recap, the governor announced way back in April 2012 that a contract had been signed to build two brand new passenger ferries. The new ferries would shuttle passengers between Cruz Bay and Red Hook. We were all pretty excited at the time because, really, who doesn’t like new things, although the more than $7 million price tag made many of us wonder about potential fare increases.
We soon learned that federal money had been secured to pay for the ferries. (Here’s the breakdown, according to the Government House Blog: $3 million would come from the Obama Administration economic stimulus or ARRA funds, approximately $2.7 million would come from Ferryboat Discretionary funding the territory has accumulated through the years and approximately $2.1 million allocated from DPW’s regular lines of funding from the Federal Highway Administration would be used.) Ok, that sounded good to us.
Almost one year to the day later, the Government House Blog published a snapshot of one of the new ferries in process. It looked pretty fancy and our excitement grew.
Six months later, we received word that two 85-foot catamarans were ready for sea trials in Louisiana where they were built. Again, the Government House Blog put out a story promoting the positive news.
About two weeks later, they arrived. We here at News of St. John caught our first glimpse of “Cruz Bay 1” when VIVA! Vacations posted a pic over on their Facebook page. We immediately shared it with all of you, and again, we were all excited. The only thing that had to happen at that point was a relatively quick and easy Coast Guard inspection and they’d be placed in operation. We thought at the time that it would happen by the end of November, December at the latest.
No such luck.
The ferries are currently docked over in St. Thomas. To our knowledge, they’ve barely moved since arriving in the Territory. So whats the holdup? I wish we had some answers for you, but we don’t. The whole thing’s rather peculiar if you ask us.
Rumors have been swirling around the island regarding the status of the ferries. Some people have said they were designed (by no fault of the shipbuilder) without adequate luggage space. Others have said that Varlack Ventures and Transportation Services do not want to operate the government-run ferries. (They currently own and operate the passenger ferries. The government will own these new ferries and will lease them to the operators.) Either way, something’s up in our opinion.
We chatted about a week back with Lieutenant Commander Bryson Spangler of the Coast Guard and he provided some insight. According to him, the ferries had yet to be inspected. He also said at the time that the ferries hadn’t been transferred to the new operators. When that occurred, the vessels would be inspected, he said. He then casually mentioned that the holdup was due to Public Works.
We then moseyed on over to Varlack Ventures, but they weren’t talking.
So we tried contacting Public Works Commissioner Darryl Smalls. (Disclaimer: Mr. Smalls has never responded to us. Not once. Clearly he doens’t realize how cool all of you are.) Not surprisingly, he didn’t return the numerous messages we left for him.
We then reached out to the governor. Sure they’d want to talk right? Well as of late Tuesday, we hadn’t heard back from them either.
One positive thing did pop up Tuesday. We learned that Commissioner Smalls chatted with the folks over at the Tradewinds. In an interview last week, Smalls said that there was “no major holdup” and that the delays were due to “technical issues” and “red tape.”
I wonder if “technical issues” is code for not enough luggage space and “red tape” is code for two ferry operators not wanting to be involved with these strings-attached vessels? Either way, they’re docked over in St. Thomas and it doesn’t seem like they’re going anywhere fast.
This calls for a News of St. John contest: The first person to send us a picture of a ferry boat in operation between Red Hook and Cruz Bay will get a new, super fancy News of St. John shotglass and a few classic News of St. John drink koozies. Send us your pics to [email protected]
In the meantime, we’d love to know your opinions on the holdup. Please leave them in the comments section or over on our Facebook page.