DeJongh signs bills clearing way for Crown Bay dredging, capital projects


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ST. THOMAS - On Friday, the governor signed into law two bills for the V.I. Port Authority - one to refinance bonds for capital projects and one to ratify a Coastal Zone Management permit for dredging in Crown Bay - that passed during a special legislative session he called earlier this week .

"Our ability to remain competitive and responsive to our partners in growing our economy requires us to be swift and thorough as you were in the Special Session held on July 23, 2014," Gov. John deJongh Jr. said in his transmittal letter to Senate President Shawn-Michael Malone.

The CZM permit ratified by the Senate will allow the Port Authority to dredge the East Gregorie Channel that leads into the Crown Bay harbor. The dredging is necessary for the largest cruise ships to be able to safely navigate to the pier.

The permit was approved by the St. Thomas CZM Committee, sent to the Senate in April and was heard and approved by the Economic Development, Agriculture and Planning Committee earlier this month.

The Port Authority is on a tight deadline to have the project completed. If the dredging does not happen by the start of the tourist season in November, the port will lose 13 ship calls, representing a potential $18 million economic loss for the territory, according to Port Authority Executive Director Carlton Dowe.

The final approval means the Army Corps of Engineers can move forward to approve the federal permit. Once the permits are in place, the project will go out to bid, and once a contractor is selected, work can begin.

Dowe said he hopes the dredging can start by September to meet a November deadline.

The dredging is expected to cost the Port Authority about $3.5 million; however, Dowe is negotiating with cruise lines to cover some of the expense.

The second measure approved by the Senate on Wednesday will help the Port Authority fund its capital projects plan by refinancing existing 2003 bonds in the amount of about $25 million and issuing about $29 million in new bonds.

The bonds will be backed by the Port Authority's marine revenues and will fund projects scheduled for Fiscal Years 2015 and 2016.

The new bonds will support the following projects:

- $11 million - U.S. Customs building and parking lot for the Urman Fredericks Marine Facility in Red Hook.

- $8 million - Crown Bay cargo and cruise port dredging and upgrades to the facility.

- $2 million - Improvements to the Cruz Bay ferry and Enighed Pond barge facilities.

- $3 million - Development of Gallows Bay port, St. Croix.

- $4 million - Wilfred Allick Port and transshipment center.

- $1 million - Abramson Marine Facility, Frederiksted, St. Croix.

- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email alewin@dailynews.vi.

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