The Economic Development and Agriculture Committee Chairman Kenneth L. Gittens said he had hoped to provide a clearer picture as to the sale of the refinery, plans to reopen or repurpose it, and the status of environmental remediation projects following last year’s release incidents.
“Unfortunately, there is still much more we need to know from Port Hamilton Refining & Transportation, especially in terms of enhanced environmental protection measures and the status of any negotiations with the EPA,” Senator Gittens said. “Port Hamilton was unable to say who even owns the company – who are its shareholders? There are also questions about what is currently owed to the Virgin Islands Government under the terms of the sale.”
Before closing the refinery and declaring bankruptcy, Limetree Bay was operating under a specific agreement that required regular payments to the GVI and the funding of scholarships, job training and other initiatives. Port Hamilton assumed ownership of the refinery in January of this year.
“I will be following up to verify what was required by the Court under the terms of the sale of the refinery,” Sen. Gittens said. “My concern is that there is not one individual or agency in the Administration that seems to be fully aware of what is taking place despite the fact this has major economic and environmental implications for the territory.”
Gittens urged the new refinery owners to be transparent about their plans given widespread community concern.
“Health and safety are the priorities; however, we also need to ensure that the local businesses and individuals looking towards a refinery restart are properly informed,” he said.
Port Hamilton Chief Executive Officer Charles Chambers testified that the company had “conversations underway with local and federal regulators and a host of other critical constituents in order to ensure the safe, environmentally friendly and quick restart of the refinery.”
Chambers indicated that the company plans to begin its first round of hiring workers in September, with the goal of producing 180,000 barrels of oil per day. At its peak under HOVENSA, the refinery produced 650,000 barrels per day. He said about 170 people would be hired to work at the refinery, and they were pushing to begin production by the “second quarter of next year, once financing is secured.”
The committee also heard testimony on the Territorial Agricultural Plan developed by the University of the Virgin Islands per Act 8404.
“UVI, the farmers and all those that contributed to this plan did a tremendous job,” Gittens said. “It is very concerning to realize that 97 percent of our food is imported. However, the Ag Plan helps provide a realistic map for increasing production and supporting farmers.”
The senator said he would be meeting with staff in the coming days to begin work on implementing some of the legislative initiatives outlined in the plan, which include funding critical positions and creating a new advisory council.
University of the Virgin Islands President David Hall said all aspects of the plan needed to be supported.
“That’s why it’s a plan, if we fund one piece of it and not the rest, we are not going to get there,” Hall said.
Gittens described the plan as a tremendous opportunity. He was deeply appreciative Thursday for the testimony from informed community members to include – Sommer Sibilly Brown, Dale Browne, Luca Gasperi and Nate Olive.
“The pandemic and now the rising cost of groceries have once again brought home the importance of local food production,” he said. “I look forward to moving ahead.”
For more information, contact the Office of Senator Kenneth L. Gittens at 773-2424 or 774-0880.
Editor’s note: Sen. Kenneth L. Gittens is a member of the 34th Legislature of the U.S. Virgin Islands.