Few Questions Answered by Alpine at Town Meeting

In a meeting that grew contentious at times, residents had few of their questions answered by representatives of Alpine Energy Group at a Thursday evening, January 14, public hearing at the Cruz Bay Legislature building.

It was standing room only, although many of the seats inside the legislature room were filled with various environmental consultants and officials from V.I. Waste Management Authority and Water And Power Authority.

The meeting was the second in a series of town hall  meetings hosted by WAPA, VIWMA and Alpine across the territory to share details of two proposed waste to energy and petroleum-coke burning power plants.

WAPA has signed two contracts with Alpine to construct one plant on St. Croix and a second plant in the Estate Bovoni area of St. Thomas, just a few miles from the shores of Love City.

After years of inadequate planning and funding to deal with the territory’s waste stream, VIWMA  faces federal orders to close the St. Croix landfill this year and the St. Thomas dump by 2014. The agency has been looking for waste-to-energy projects as long-term solutions for the territory’s waste issues.

WAPA has been looking for ways to move the utility away from its total dependence on oil for energy, and issued requests for proposals in December 2007 for alternative energy production contracts.

Fourteen proposals came in from various alternative energy producers by the May 2008 deadline, of which six were determined to fit WAPA’s criteria — which stipulated financing and ownership of plants by the energy producer.

After months of negotiations, WAPA signed two 20-year contracts with Colorado-based Alpine Energy Group in August 2009. Plans call for the energy plants to burn a combination of shredded, sanitized and pelletized biomass — like old tires, wood-based waste and other combustible materials — and pet-coke.

“WAPA went through a rigorous and transparent process to evaluate the proposals,” said WAPA executive director Hugo Hodge. “Critics might prefer one technology over another, but technology wasn’t the only criteria. We considered the applicant’s ability to finance the project.”

“We made our decision based on what would be in the best interest of our rate payers,” said Hodge.

The contracts between WAPA and Alpine are only the first phase of the project, and many permits must still be obtained by local and federal agencies including Department of Planning and Natural Resources’ Coastal Zone Planning Committees, EPA and Army Corps of Engineers.

“If the permits are not acquired, the project will not happen,” Hodge told the crowd.

Officials from WAPA, VIWMA and Alpine each gave short presentations detailing the proposed projects before opening the floor to questions from the audience.

Most residents who posed questions to Alpine and WAPA were concerned with the toxic by-products of burning pet-coke being discharged into the atmosphere.

“Let us know what is going to come out of those stacks,” said Dan Porter.

“Would you drink a glass of water with these toxins mixed into it?” asked Pam Gaffin. “Because that is what you are asking us to do. I will have to drink and bathe in these toxins.”

“Clean air and clean water are very important to our tourists,” said Myrtle Barry. “We have to protect our tourist market. Our tourists won’t come if our air and our water aren’t clean.”

“WAPA doesn’t provide all of us with water — many of us depend on our roofs for water,” said Barry. “It’s more a threat to our health than anything else because of the chemicals that are going to be released.”

Hodge adamantly denied that any toxins would end up in anyone’s cisterns.

“Were it true that this stuff would end up on your roof, it would be a travesty,” said Hodge. “No one here would propose a project that would do that.”

Although officials did not detail the composition of what the stacks would release into the air, Alpine officials pledged to share that information with the public in the future.

Other residents were concerned about endangered coral in the pristine bay off-shore of the proposed Bovoni plant, which also calls for construction of a pier to unload pet-coke and biomass waste to the facility.

“There are elkhorn and staghorn coral in the bay, particularly in the area near where the dock is proposed,” said Gary Ray. “I think it will be very tough to get these permits under the Endangered Species Act. I’d like to see our coastline protected.”

The discussion grew heated when Hugo Roller questioned WAPA’s integrity in the RFP process and Lorelei Monsanto questioned entering into a 20-year agreement with a company that was only formed in 2007.

“Frankly, this deal smells worse than the waste that clearly needs to be dealt with in a better manner than is now done,” said Roller.

“I’m appalled and hurt at what is happening here,” said Monsanto. “We have e company that is in its infancy. My government has chosen a child to deal with our issues of trash.”

“When we ask questions you make it combative,” said Monsanto.

“It is very frustrating when information is being released that is not true,” Hodge said in his defense after a terse back and forth with both Roller and Monsanto.

While the contracts between WAPA and Alpine have been signed, numerous public hearings will be hosted in the future as the energy group applies for the bevy of permits needed for the projects.

For more information about Alpine check out the company’s website at www.alpineenergygroup.com.