Posted on August 18, 2023
ST. THOMAS — V.I. Port Authority Director Carlton Dowe said Wednesday that a discussion with the West Indian Company about dredging depth in St. Thomas Harbor is motivated by financial concerns, and is not an effort to keep Crown Bay as the only port capable of accommodating the largest Oasis class cruise ships.
“Nothing that we are doing have anything to do with trying to stop any Oasis class vessel from going to WICO. The last discussion that we had with WICO, it was the Port Authority asking them to meet just to lead in communication and communicating all the way with them as to how we can do these things together. It was the Port Authority asking for such a meeting,” Dowe said during Wednesday’s board meeting.
Dowe’s statements came in response to questions from a reporter after The Daily News obtained copies of recent letters between Dowe and WICO President and CEO Anthony Ottley.
Ottley did not respond to questions from The Daily News.
In his letter to Ottley, Dowe explained that while WICO is requesting that dredging be done to 40 feet, VIPA believes that only 36 feet is necessary based on a recommendation from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The Public Finance Authority’s $17 million allocation for the dredging would also only cover the work up to 36 feet, and Dowe asked WICO to provide documentation from cruise lines of the 40-foot requirement. He added that if WICO insists on the 40-foot depth, any funding shortfall for that work and future maintenance would need to be made up through an additional charge on cruise vessels and their passengers.
In response, Ottley wrote to Dowe and explained his opposition to the proposal for a reduced dredging depth, and said both WICO and VIPA should be doing everything possible to receive the largest cruise ships sailing now, and in the future.
VIPA and WICO are theoretically going to merge at some point, and combining the two entites has been in discussion for more than a decade.
Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. called for WICO to be transferred to the Port Authority during his 2021 State of the Territory Address. But little has been said about the plan for more than a year, after representatives from both entites said during a Senate meeting in March 2022 that they couldn’t provide any details about the potential merger, citing nondisclosure agreements.
Government House Communications Director Richard Motta Jr. did not respond to questions from The Daily News.
During Wednesday’s meeting, Dowe said VIPA’s application to the Army Corps is for a 40-foot dredging depth, and would include the entrance channel, turning basin, and WICO berthing area.
“That’s what’s before the Army Corps. The communication that we sent out, there is some $17 million that our administration indicate that they’ll make available for dredging in the Charlotte Amalie harbor. That $17 million would equate to dredging up to 36 feet,” Dowe said.
VIPA representatives and Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. recently met with the Army Corps, and the Army Corps “has made it abundantly clear, going forward the Oasis class, the need for them to maneuver, what have you, is 36 feet. That’s what they would recognize,” Dowe said.
“Now, we can apply for any amount of dredging,” but the costs need to be covered, and “$17 million can give you 36 feet,” Dowe said. “The reason we went to meet with WICO is so we could discuss now beyond the $17 million, beyond 36 feet, what that cost is and how that is to be paid for.”
He emphasized that VIPA doesn’t want to “stop” or “slow down” WICO’s progress, and “the Port Authority is willing to dredge to whatever WICO or anybody else is requiring or asking for, except, it has to be paid for. So, the part that I want you to take from this is the discussion of how any additional dredging is going to be paid for, and we can’t divorce ourselves from that. Just like Crown Bay, we have dredging to do there, we have dredging to do in St. Croix. We must figure out how that is going to be paid for,” Dowe said.
He added that, “we have nothing to do with trying to stop any Oasis ship from going anywhere. As a matter of fact, the only company that have the Oasis class as we speak today, is Royal Caribbean. And all of us should know by now the Port Authority has entered into a 10-year agreement with Royal Caribbean.”