A representative of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will begin working from St. Croix this month, responding to community needs and keeping an eye on Hovensa’s former refinery, the agency announced Thursday.
Geoffrey Garrison, who as an EPA representative on Puerto Rico since 2000 has been one of the first people called when the refinery experienced problems, will move to St. Croix in the next week or two, according to EPA spokeswoman Mary Mears. Garrison will work from his home.
Garrison has been part of the EPA’s Caribbean Environmental Protection Division since 2000. In that capacity, he has been involved in St. Croix issues, particularly at the refinery, and has worked in close cooperation with the territory’s Department of Planning and Natural Resources to address spills at the former St. Croix Alumina site, and other oil and chemical releases.
Establishing a representative in the territory has been in the works since before Hovensa announced the closure in January, but Mears said that announcement added impetus to the move.
"We have wanted to have an increased presence in St. Croix, where there are a lot of industrial facilities," Mears said.
Now that the refinery is no longer operating, accidental releases of gases or spills are over with, she said, but an industrial site like that one with a 40-year history of petroleum production can’t just be abandoned, and the company has never said that was its intention. Hovensa will continue to operate an oil storage facility at its otherwise mothballed site
"We’re going to work closely with the company in terms of what they have to do," she said. "They have to meet all environmental laws, and there’s also some cleanup work to do. They can’t just walk away."
For the last four years, Garrison has been a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves, as the U.S.V.I. emergency preparedness liaison officer on St. Croix. He is responsible for planning and coordinating with local, territorial and federal agencies throughout the U.S. Virgin Islands. He has served during major storms as liaison to the National Guard and V.I. Territorial Management Agency, assisting the defense coordinating officer in integrating active military support if requested by the V.I. government.
Besides overseeing the Hovensa shutdown, Garrison will respond to pollution releases and support the work of the Recycling Partnership, according to the agency’s news release.
Since joining the agency he has responded to large scale emergencies including the World Trade Center attack, Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana and Mississippi and the CAPECO Refinery explosion in Cataño, Puerto Rico.
When he begins his service on St. Croix, he will be reachable by telephone, but that number has not been assigned yet, Mears said. In the meantime, his e-mail address is email@example.com.