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Senators Trash Alpine Energy Deal

With 11 senators voting against a lease for the greenest phase of the project, the Legislature on Monday effectively killed the V.I. government’s $440 million deal with Alpine Energy Group to produce power from the territory’s trash.
“If my tally is correct,” Senate President Louis P. Hill said just before the vote, “then this one may be heading for the dump.”
While the lease to build a plant in Bovoni to pelletize garbage for combustion was only the first of several leases that would need approval, most of the nay-saying senators said they voted on principles that went beyond that specific lease as presented on Monday’s full Senate agenda.
The lease for a refuse-derived fuel (RDF) plant was just the first phase of a plan that would ultimately allow Alpine to burn petroleum coke in plants on St. Thomas and St. Croix, they said.
“A duck is a duck, and it always remains a duck,” Sen. Adlah Donastorg said severely before senators were polled. “What starts out bad will always remain bad,” he said.
“If you can’t prove to me that pet coke and RDF are completely safe for the people of the Virgin Islands, then I can’t support it,” said Sen. Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly, echoing many of the senators who spoke before her and after.
Only Sens. Hill, Wayne James, Sammuel Sanes, and Michael Thurland voted for the lease.
Sen. Craig Barshinger, a naysayer who in previous weeks seemed to champion the project, said his constituents had spoken loud and clear that they did not want pet coke burned in the territory. He said he would have voted for the lease if he thought it would stop at an RDF plant.
“But I see that the only deal before us is the pet coke-burning … deal,” he said.
Others, too, said they feared the RDF lease was Alpine’s Trojan horse for pet coke.
Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone, referring to rumors that Alpine and the V.I. Water and Power Authority may have tossed pet coke out of their plans, said, “If there is going to be a reconstitution of any kind, then we should see that in writing.”
At first huffing at the vote, Alpine President Donald Hurd then stood up and left the Legislature gallery shaking his head, waving away reporters as he exited the building, walked down to his vehicle and drove away.
Much maligned by opponents for his staunch support of the project as a solution for both garbage disposal and base power needs in the territory, WAPA Executive Director Hugo Hodge Jr. said in a phone interview Monday he was “extremely disappointed.”
“A lot of hard work went into this deal,” he told the Source after Monday’s vote. “The next step is that we’ll have to evaluate the decision that was made today and go back and see what the senators’ concerns were to see if there is a way to salvage the deal,” he said. “Or else we’ll have to go back to the drawing board.”
A spokesperson for the V.I. Waste Management Authority, also a partner in the deal, said Executive Director May Adams Cornwall would issue an official response on Tuesday. Government House issued no statements Monday.
With the chambers and gallery abuzz after the vote, Barshinger tried to play peacemaker, assuring that no one would be gloating, that the real message to WAPA and WMA was, “Good job, but you can do better,” he said. “Come back to us with something else.”
Just outside the chambers, where he and other environmentalists celebrated their success thwarting the project, Paul Chakroff said he was “surprised” by the vote.
“I’m impressed with the diligence and considerable seriousness that the senators put into this,” he said. “They voted from a position of being extremely well informed.”
He and other opponents to Alpine looked a little like dragon slayers Monday after the vote, some appearing unsure what to do next. Chakroff painted it as an opportunity for all the parties to get together again now that pet coke is off the table.
Some of those who voted for the project, however, weren’t ready to let them walk away as victors. They handed the opponents the responsibility to come up with a solution for overflowing landfills and rising energy costs now that they turned Alpine out.
"Most residents don’t care about such politics," said Sanes. “For the most part, they care about opening the WAPA bill at the end of the month and wondering how they’re going to pay that bill,” he said. “Remember that.”
Sanes also warned that the territory was heading down a path well worn by U.S. territory Guam, which has paid as much as $1 million a week in fines to the federal Environmental Protection Agency for violations at its overfilled dumps.
“Can we afford that now?” Sanes asked. “Let’s get realistic,” he said.
“After Alpine’s dead,” said Thurland, “it’s bail and wrap.” Thurland said it would cost the territory $55 million a year to haul trash off island that could have been pelletized and burned for free fuel.
Having the final word before the vote, Hill predicted it was already “dead on arrival.”
“I will anxiously wait for the solution,” he said, “that will be proposed by whom?”

Staff Writer Ananta Pancham contributed to this report.

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