V.I. Port Authority OKs $1.3 million more for improvements at King and Rohlsen airports

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ST. CROIX - V.I. Port Authority Board met on Wednesday and in an extensive agenda, approved change orders and contracts for more than $1.3 million from various funding sources to facilitate capital improvement projects in both districts.

Chief Engineer Dale Gregory gave recommendations to the board to approve the requests for improvements to lighting, roofing, engineering, security, parking and other projects at both King Airport on St. Thomas and Rohlsen Airport on St. Croix.

All board members with the exception of Yvonne Thraen were present for the meeting.

The board voted unanimously to approve a request from Custom Buildings, the contractors on the expansion for the baggage claim area at King Airport, for a change order in the amount of $23,000 to install an additional wall - which is outside the scope of what had been discussed for the original project - where the belt runs from the ceiling.

Gregory said the Transportation Security Administration and Customs and Border Protection have also requested a change in the baggage flow at the airport for security purposes.

Gregory asked for and was given the approval from the board for $347,000 for the modification to the scope of work to build a cage-like structure that would prevent bags at King Airport from looping back outside to where baggage handlers are. He said the federal agencies' concern is that if bags are going back out, then someone could breech the security system by placing a bag on the belt on the inside that could be picked up by a handler and loaded on a plane without going through security screening.

In other business, the board also unanimously approved:

- $43,655 to Better Roads Inc. for the $9 million taxiway restoration at King Airport after the consultants recommended that additional conduits and wiring be placed under the runway to address concerns with failure of electrical lines. The project is funded by a federal Airport Improvement Program grant.

- $47,256 to enter into a contract with J. Benton Construction to take care of unexpected discoveries on the King Airport roof found after the start of the $4 million roof rehabilitation project. Gregory said a study was done years ago, and now they are finding some corrosion around vents and need to remove and replace the existing membrane.

- $32,000 to conduct rehabilitation on the Transportation Security Administration building and parking lot that would help free up additional parking space at Rohlsen Airport.

- A $53,000 change order to V.I. Paving for the Rohlsen parking lot extension project. The increased funds will handle newly developed issues, including building a designated concrete sidewalk from the terminal, across the street to the rental car parking area. Gregory said it is a liability for the Port Authority to have rental customers walking through the grass and along the edge of the road to get their rentals.

- $8,494 to add proposed changes and existing changes at the airports to the current airport layout plan as required by the Federal Aviation Administration. Public Works Commissioner Darryl Smalls was absent for that vote.

Tourism Commissioner Beverly Nicholson-Doty was absent when the board approved $625,000 for bid and construction for phase two of the apron rehabilitation project at Rohlsen Airport.

Nicholson-Doty also was absent when the board approved $159,800 for a task order to CDR McGuire to do the design for the high mast lighting at a container port to address concerns over the years with light bases being damaged and the current light poles not being tall enough as containers are being stacked higher. Once the design is completed, the actual cost of the project will be determined. Smalls abstained from the vote.

Gregory also updated the board on the Crown Bay Marina dredging project, saying the Port Authority has provided the Army Corps of Engineers with all the needed information to proceed with issuing a permit. He said that he has not heard any response as yet but that he knows high-level meetings have taken place and a decision should be made shortly.

Port Authority Executive Director Carlton Dowe said the dredging is expected to take 30 days and will be done during the slow season in September.

"We will meet the deadline, and if we don't it won't be for lack of trying," he said. Dowe said his staff has maintained pressure on the Army Corps to keep the process moving, and he has had Gov. John deJongh Jr. contact Washington, D.C., to make direct calls to express the urgency on the matter.

Gregory said the Crown Bay Channel dredging is also in limbo as they await permits for that project. He said the Army Corps of Engineers and federal regulators are expected to be in the territory today to discuss a number of projects with the Port Authority and other government agencies.

The board finished up the meeting with the approval of a resolution to increase fees for inter-island vessels operating as ferries. Dowe said this was the first increase in 18 years, and the funds generated will be used for a number of improvement projects across the territory.

According to the resolution, wharfage fees have increased from $1.85 to $3 per passenger, while ship dues have increased from $0.85 to $2 and exclude inter-territorial service. Labor Commissioner Albert Bryan Jr. was absent for that vote.

- Contact reporter Fiona Stokes at 714-9149 or email fstokes@dailynews.vi.

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