The formation of the Virgin Islands Marine Economic Development Council is poised to breathe new life into this U.S. territory’s maritime industries, which contributed as much as $100 million to the island’s economy in the 1980s.
What makes this council different from anything formed before or marine councils on other islands is that it was established by executive order by Virgin Islands Gov. John P. de Jongh Jr. Council membership is composed of a mix of private sector operators of marinas, charter yachts, fishing vessels, dive and tour boats, manufacturers and service operators; high-ranking delegates from several governmental departments that oversee and regulate the island’s marine industry; and a specially appointed marine advisor to coordinate follow-up and follow-through.
“I think the most important point is that we are not just a community group reacting to legislation or hoping to influence lawmakers,” said Kelly Kiernan, director/in-house broker at Flagship Charter Yacht Services and a council member. “We are marine stakeholders and government officials working together at the policymaking level to create a sustainable marine economy for this territory.”
A series of economic and natural disasters over the past two decades, culminating in last year’s closure of the Hovensa oil refinery on St. Croix and the loss of nearly 2,500 jobs and more than $100 million in tax revenues opened the door for other sectors of the V.I. economy to step up. The council had its first meeting in early July.
The council identified areas that need improvement for marine-related businesses to grow. For example, in Christiansted, St. Croix, there is a need for repairs to the commercial wharf bulkhead to improve marine access and vessel repairs.
Manufacturers would benefit from more clear explanation of the excise tax exemption for marine items. The racing and recreational boating sector needs maintenance on moorings and a restructured mooring plan for the territory, along with an understanding of the impact that excessive wake has in certain anchorages.
“Issues in which megayachts will specifically benefit include improved access via public docks and waterfront bulkheads, parking for crew and guests, and a better appreciation from the local government and community of the direct economic benefit that all maritime industries have on the Virgin Islands economy,” said Colette Conroy Monroe, policy adviser for the governor’s office and a council member.
An additional issue which would benefit non-U.S. crew is a Virgin Islands visa waiver. This has been introduced by U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) on behalf of the territory as an amendment authorizing a V.I. special visa waiver program to the Senate Immigration Bill. Similar programs are in the works for the U.S. territories of Guam and the Northern Marianas.
“The V.I. Marine Economic Development Council will give us a proper forum to discuss the practicalities that might necessitate change, give much needed perspective to both sides of the discussion, and allow us to all contribute to decision-making that will make our marine economy prosper,” said Paige Passano, manager of the St. Thomas location of Budget Marine. “The marine portion of our economy is vitally important, and it is refreshing that our governor has had the wisdom to take this step to foster its growth.”
Carol Bareuther is a freelance writer in St. Thomas. Comments on this story are welcome at email@example.com.