I have the following comments on the proposed ferry terminal at West End.

The BVI Ports Authority proposes to continue with the original proposal as far as the terminal design is concerned. This involves a total floor area of 75,290 square feet, according to the proposal submitted to Town and Country Planning Department. The budget for the facility is apparently $25 million. The design requires that essentially all of the structure be supported on piles over Sopers Hole. The area proposed has water depths probably in the 20- to 25-foot range.

CH2M HILL, the consultant, reportedly believes that the fees quoted by the construction firms that bid on the project are “way out of line.” This is interesting.

At the present time residential construction costs are averaging $350 per square foot of floor area. This is approximately correct for a building which is built on a bedrock foundation and which includes a poured cistern. Multi-storey houses are somewhat cheaper per overall square foot, but probably not much more than 10 percent less. A cost of $315 per square foot is probably appropriate. However, this is a minimal figure and government projects may well cost in excess of that figure.

Located on bedrock, the structures in question do not require piling. Piling should therefore be considered separately. Assuming that the footprint of the lower floor will be one-third of the overall area, the basic area will be a little more than 27,600 square feet, allowing 10 percent for surrounding dockage, which must also be supported on piles.

Assuming that one pile will be required for every 10 square feet, the total number of piles will be in the order of 275. Each pile must be accurately located and probably will have to be driven in about 20 feet of water to a depth sufficient to eliminate future settling. Previous test piles in the same area proved that the depth of driving required was sufficient to make a proposed marina uneconomic to construct.

To provide a safety measure, it might be inferred that a driving depth of 40 feet should be assumed. This will mean a pile some 70 feet long, allowing for a 10-foot extension above the surface.

If it is assumed that the cost of a pile will be $10 per lineal foot, the base cost per pile will be $700. Given the depth of driving, it should be assumed that no more than one pile per day can be driven. This will entail some 270 days of construction time — all of which must be completed before the actual structure is started.

At five working days per week, this amounts to 54 weeks — slightly more than a year. Allowing $500 per day for the pile driver and barge plus $500 per day for labour, this will cost in the order of $270,000. Material cost for the piles will be in the order of $189,000. Total piling cost could be in the order of $459,000.

Both CH2M HILL and BVIPA Director Vincent O’Neal indicated that fill would be required, at least below the terminal proper. This will require a subsurface retaining concrete retaining wall.  Assuming that this wall is the minimum length to enclose three sides of an area of 25,000 square feet and assuming that it must withstand the pressure of 17.5 feet of fill, an estimate of 460 cubic yards of marine grade concrete may be required. Allowing for the difficulty of forming and pouring from a barge, the cost per cubic yard should be estimated at $1,000. The cost of the retaining wall should be allowed at $460,000. Installation time is possibly 45 workdays.

The wall must be filled. On the same basis, this will require about 16,000 cubic yards of fill. CH2M HILL was vague (to say the least) about the source of this material. There is a large volume of construction waste at the police station. This material is possibly of marginal quality, containing amounts of waste-reinforced concrete. Regardless, this may be the only convenient source of fill available. Assuming that 12-cubic-yard trucks are used, about 1,350 truck trips will be required. Again assuming that five trucks are used and that one truck can make three trips per day, 90 days of transport will be required. And the 90 days cannot start until the retaining wall is in place. Assuming that the fill is at no cost, the trucking (and loading and spreading) costs should be estimated at $150 per load, or about $200,000.

Total time for the retaining wall plus the fill will be 135 days, or 27 weeks. Total time to the point where construction of the terminal can start will be close to 81 weeks or one and a half years. Allowing for a minimum of two years to construct the terminal building, a completion date of 2014 sounds reasonable if nothing goes wrong. Given this estimate of a construction schedule, the projected completion date of September 2012 seems hopelessly optimistic. We do not need another government project that lasts forever! And, in all probability, that is just what we are looking at.

Cost estimates

Assuming a per-square-foot cost of $315, the structure cost may come to $23,716,000. Total structural costs (including retaining wall and fill) may therefore be in the order of $24,835,000.

The ancillary costs of equipping the building with offices, baggage handling, parking, road modifications and so on could come to 20 percent of the base structure cost, or $4.5 million.

The barge ramp as proposed is excluded from the above figures, but could add an additional 10 percent, or $2.5 million.

The basic estimated cost could therefore be expected to be in the order of $32 million.

And government projects are notoriously bad at cost control. Overruns are so common as to warrant a place in any estimate — in this case, say 25 percent. That would bring the total cost to close to $40 million.

The natural conclusion is that the $25 million estimate is far too low.

Passenger numbers

The BVIPA has been instructed to prepare an accurate estimate of the number of passengers who are expected to pass through the terminal. At the public meeting, Mr. O’Neal stated that the figure of 30,000 each month was based on customs and immigration data. However, observation of passenger volume, both in and out, indicates that the maximum volume at the height of tourism season is probably closer to 300 per day. On average, 200 per day is probably more realistic. And this is at high season.

A survey of the ferry manifest data probably would reflect figures closer to the lower figure. Allowing for a maximum of 250 passengers per day, the lower figure would be equivalent to about 7,500 passengers per month, rather than 30,000. If this is correct, then the terminal could well be oversized — and possibly disastrously so. And based on average rather than average maximum, the number may well be closer to 6,500 to 7,000 passengers per month.

The design allows for some 30,000 square feet of restaurant/shop space in the terminal. This area is probably well in excess of the total retail area in the West End area. At the public meeting, most of this area was scheduled for restaurant space — an allocation that would be well in excess of the gross area of all restaurants in the area. There is no evidence that the existing restaurants are overcrowded at the present time or that there is any real demand for additional facilities in the West End area. In fact, the restaurant business in the Virgin Islands appears to be somewhat marginal, with at least one of the moderate sized upscale restaurants being for sale, and at least one of the West End restaurants having folded in the last 18 months.

The situation at the airport should be remembered before allowing a huge increase in available space at one of the extremes of the island.

Taking all of the above factors into account, one might be forced to believe that the proposed ferry terminal at West End is oversized, overly expensive and not well justified.