Representatives of Port Hamilton Refining and Transportation and West Indies Petroleum came to the Committee on Economic Development and Agriculture Thursday to answer questions about who now owned the former Limetree Bay Refinery and where those owners were taking the refinery. Senators were not satisfied with the answers.
Danville Walker, senior vice president of West Indies Petroleum, emphasized the separate legal status of West Indies Petroleum and Port Hamilton. He testified that West Indies Petroleum is an energy company operating in the Caribbean, providing products through retail locations, regional cargo distribution, and marine bunkering.
He said the sale of the refinery was a matter of public record in the docket of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Texas. But a main detail of the sale had Senators shaking their heads and asking why three hours after the hearing started.
The detail was that West Indies Petroleum put the $3 million deposit down for the sale and then, when the sale was complete, turned all assets over to Port Hamilton.
Charles Chambers, who testified he was the largest shareholder of Port Hamilton and the CEO of West Indies Petroleum, could not name the other shareholders in Port Hamilton.
Sen. Dwayne DeGraff said, “I can’t believe we are having a conversation when we don’t even know who owns the refinery.”
Sen. Janelle Sarauw said, “I am really not comfortable with this discussion. People of the territory deserve more.”
Sens. Novelle Francis and Kurt Vialet were critical of Chambers. Vialet said to Chambers that Chambers came to the hearing to “play games.” And added, “Playing a game is not going to get the refinery open.”
Chambers, in his testimony, stated that Port Hamilton was committed “to the safe and environmentally sound restarting of the refinery at 180,000 barrels per day of production amidst the current tight supply environment, particularly in the United States and the Caribbean.”
His testimony and that of Fermin Rodriguez, the vice president, and acting refinery manager of the St. Croix Refinery and former employee of Hovensa, raised other questions with the senators. Rodriguez said the refinery presently employed 42 people but would bump it up to 179 employees when operations began.
Senators asked how the refinery could operate with only 179 employees when it once employed three thousand. Rodriguez said the refinery would be operating only on a limited scale to begin, and operations and employment opportunities could arise.
Sen. Franklin Johnson said he was one of the people who suffered when the previous owners of the refinery let emissions spill over into the atmosphere, rolling into the western portion of St. Croix. He said, “I am uncomfortable with the answers my colleagues are getting.”
Chambers, in his written testimony, said, “Port Hamilton Refining and Transportation has a good opportunity to quickly bring new supply to the market with refinery production that is both inside the United States and the Caribbean. We are continuously pushing within the international investment community towards ensuring that the refinery is restarted in the shortest possible time by the second quarter of next year once financing is secured. Port Hamilton Refining and Transportation takes very seriously our role and opportunity to be partners with the St. Croix community.”
Sen. Kenneth Gittens, who chaired the committee hearing, said, “There is talk there might not be a reopening of the refinery.” Rodriguez testified that selling the assets of the refinery could bring in $110 million. Gittens noted that would be over twice what the buyers had invested in the refinery.
Walker testified, “It is my hope that via my appearance today, West Indies Petroleum has cleared up any ambiguity concerning the issues.”
Nathan Simmons, director of the Public Finance Authority, testified, “While both West Indies and PHRT were the purchasers under the agreement, the court filings indicate that the title to the assets and contracts transferred to Port Hamilton only. When the sale closed, Port Hamilton stepped into the shoes of Limetree Bay Refinery for purposes of the Refinery Operating Agreement and overall operations of the refinery. Therefore, there is no new operating agreement.”
Sens. Francis and Vialet both said that conclusion was debatable.
Senators attending the meeting included Kenneth Gittens, Milton Potter, Javan James Jr., Janelle K. Sarauw, Sammuel Carrion, Genevieve Whitaker, Donna Frett-Gregory, Dwayne DeGraff, Novelle Francis, Franklin Johnson, Samuel Carrión, and Alma Francis Heyliger.