St. Thomas, USVI – Members of the 34th Legislature met with the Limetree Bay’s Executive Team to discuss the recent incidents that have occurred and the course of action that Limetree Bay will be pursuing to correct and mitigate against future incidents. Jeffrey Rinker, Chief Executive Officer of Limetree Bay provided information to the Senators on incidents that occurred in February 2021, that impacted the Estate Clifton Hill community; the incident in April 2021, that resulted in a noxious odor that permeated the western part of St. Croix; and the May 2021 flare incident that occurred almost two weeks ago. Limetree advised the Senators that an Incident Command Center has been established and can be reached at (340) 692-3199. There are surveyors out in the community assessing impact to homes in communities as far west as Estate Hannah’s Rest. Further a protocol has been established to have roofs, cisterns and cars cleaned that were impacted.
It was clear from the meeting that the dissemination of timely and accurate information to the public warrant attention. There is not a clear protocol established on who within the Government of the Virgin Islands is the point of contact for notification when there is an incident. Further based on the meeting, while information on what has transpired is shared with the various departments, the flow of information between Limetree and the Government of the Virgin Islands is not as smooth as it should be. All Senators present urged Limetree’s Executive Team to meet with members of the press and not just issue press releases, so that the public can hear directly what is occurring in the facility.
The Legislature of the Virgin Islands since approval of the refining agreement with Limetree, has appropriated approximately $2 million dollars during the last three (3) fiscal years to the Department of Planning and Natural Resources to fund the equipment and personnel needed to have the Government of the Virgin Islands monitor the air quality on St. Croix. This was done because during the vetting process, it was stated on the legislative record that under the EPA permit Limetree obtained, the monitors would not be required. The members of the 32nd Legislature thought it prudent to have the air quality monitored and provided the funding to ensure that DPNR could do so.
After discussion, Limetree Bay agreed that in the spirit of being responsible corporate citizens and partner to the Government of the Virgin Islands, that they would reinstall the monitors although it is their belief that it is not required pursuant to their permit. Limetree advised the members that once a timeline on the purchase and installation has been established that the Legislature will be notified simultaneously as Limetree notifies the EPA on the matter.
The members of the Legislature advised Limetree that the number one priority to the institution is the well-being of Virgin Islanders. Further the members indicated that during the shutdown, Limetree and the Government of the Virgin Islands work on establishing a notification and communication protocol that affords the residents of St. Croix to receive information on a timely basis on the potential hazards to their well-being. It is the consensus of the members of the Legislature to allow the federal and local EPA the opportunity to investigate the issues surrounding the emissions and odor that St. Croix residents have been experiencing. Not only is it prudent, but it allows the Legislature to have data, test results, and a corrective action plan to discuss.
The final report from the EPA will allow Senators to bring before them all involved in the emissions and odors experienced. Additionally, should the government need to obtain additional resources to address this matter, the legislature is prepared to appropriate the necessary funding.
Senate President Donna A. Frett-Gregory advised Limetree’s Executive Team that the Legislature will be convening a committee of the whole hearing prior to the restart of refining operations so that the public can be made aware of the guardrails that have been established by the Environmental Protection Agency and the various departments of the government of the Virgin Islands. “True collaboration must occur in order for the public to have a sense of security. It is important that our residents are aware of the parameters established to keep them safe and the protocols established should there be a future incident at the facility,” stated Frett-Gregory.
Senators met on Friday, May 14, 2021 with Jean-Pierre Oriol – Commissioner of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, Justa Encarnacion – Commissioner of the Department of Health, and Daryl Jaschen – Director of the Virgin Islands Territorial Management Agency to discuss the incidents at the Limetree Bay facility on St. Croix. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the protocols for timely notification, challenges the government entities were experiencing with working with Limetree and providing timely information to the community. The Government’s team acknowledged that there were communication challenges, and they are working towards ensuring that communication flows better so that those impacted are notified immediately. Commissioner Oriol of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources indicated that the government is working with a vendor to get air monitors and had not yet used the funding appropriated to the agency to purchase the equipment to monitor the air quality. Commissioner Oriol advised the Senators that the federal EPA had placed temporary monitors to check the air quality at strategic locations on St. Croix. Senators urged the government’s team to ensure that a protocol is properly established and communicated to the public. Senators stated that it is important that the Government of the Virgin Islands ensure that Limetree complies with all environmental regulations and that the only way to do so is to make sure the government is also monitoring the activities.
Members of the Legislature present were Senators Donna A. Frett-Gregory, Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Genevieve Whitaker, Marvin Blyden, Samuel Carrión, Dwayne Degraff, Kenneth L. Gittens, Franklin D. Johnson, Steven Payne, Milton Potter, Janelle K. Sarauw, and Kurt A. Vialet. Limetree’s Executive Team included Jeffrey Rinker, Jeff Charles, Neil Morgan, Franklin Quow and Tarah Graham-Hodge. Also present were members of the media.