Two of the island’s three car ferries were in operation last weekend. The third, “Roanoake” was out of service and appeared to be undergoing sandblasting and repainting while docked with its ramp in the mangroves on the south side of the Enighed Pond port.
With a callaloo of conflicting stories — and a few schedule lapses — regular customers of the three inter-island barge companies servicing the St. John-St. Thomas route have been expressing concern about the reliability of the inter-island barge service.
On Tuesday afternoon, April 8, a St. John rescue official called St. John Tradewinds from the Mister B barge operated by Boyson Inc. at about 2:30 p.m. to ask if the newspaper knew why the vessel had been waiting outside the Enighed Pond commercial port for almost one-half hour after arriving from Red Hook while waiting for room at the port’s bulkhead.
A regularly-scheduled commercial barge was off-loading at one of the three interior barge ramp spaces and only one space was available for the three vehicle barges regularly operating between St. John and St. Thomas to load and unload, according to an official of one of the barge companies.
“They were waiting for the dock to clear,” Cheryl Boynes Jackson of Boyson Inc. said of the Mr. B’s delayed arrival.
Repair Work Crowds Car Ferry Ramps
Crowded conditions in the port include a number of large vessels which have been undergoing extensive long-term repairs in violation of the V.I. government’s federal permit for construction of the port which prohibits major repair work on vessels.
Since vessels not in regular service have been allowed to dock for extended periods of time in the Enighed facility, homeowners in the residential neighborhood of Estate Contant overlooking the former mangrove-fringed salt pond have contacted Tradewinds repeatedly with complaints about the noise from metal work being conducted on vessels in the port in violation of its federal permit.
In early April, a V.I. Port Authority spokesperson told Tradewinds any repairs to vessels in the port, including two large vessels which have undergone extensive refitting and been almost entirely repainted in port over the past year, are allowed under the port’s federal permit because the work is “incidental.”
After Tradewinds spoke with the VIPA spokesperson, a large tarp was used to cover continuing work on the deck of one vessel.
The former snorkel tour boat Leland Sneed, which suffered major storm damage after being sold to new ownership, has been undergoing extensive repainting and repairs along the bulkhead of the port for more than one year in apparent violation of the federal permit for construction of the port which only allows “incidental” repair work on vessels.
A second large car ferry which has not been in service from Enighed has been undergoing extensive repairs while at the port bulkhead adjacent to the VIPA administrative offices at Enighed for much of 2013.
“They are literally building a new boat at the dock,” one resident of the neighborhood overlooking the port — who said he had also complained to VIPA — told Tradewinds.
Former Senator Dow Not Available
V.I. Port Authority Executive Director Carlton Dow, a former V.I. Senator, was not available for numerous telephone requests from Tradewinds during the week for information about overcrowding at the Enighed port due to ship repair work.
Barge Undergoes Repairs in Mangroves
The port bulkhead became so over-crowded with repair work that by April 10 the car ferry Roanoke had been taken out of service and moved to the south shore of the port where it deployed its ramp over the interior bulkhead protecting the mangrove mitigation area of the former salt pond. A truckload of processed sand on board was being used to sandblast paint off the vessel as it was moored alongside the protected mangrove shoreline.
Officials of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers told Tradewinds last year that the V.I. Port Authority has been fined for allowing previous incursions into the mangrove mitigation area replanted as part of the federal permit for the construction of the port project by another car ferry company to reach the same shoreline property upland of the mangrove.
The ACE official responsible for the Enighed port was not available for comment for this report.
Meanwhile, residents who rely on regular barge service are keeping a wary eye on the island’s motley car ferry flotilla — and the floating traffic jam in the island’s commercial port.