Senators Drill Limetree Bay on Environment and Payments

Government House image the Limetree Bay.
Limetree Bay (Government House photo)

Brian Lever, president of Limetree Bay, told the V.I. Legislature’s Committee on Government Operations, Consumer Affairs and Energy Wednesday that air and water emissions from the restarted refinery will be significantly lower than the previous refinery.

Lever said a modified fuel treating system will reduce sulfur in the fuel gas, and the refinery will install controls to remove most of the sulfur contained in the streams burned in the flares.

He also highlighted economic benefits that restarting the refinery will bring to the territory. When operations are restarted 600 people will be working full-time at Limetree Bay. Presently, according to Lever, about 240 people are employed at the refinery with about 80 percent of those being Virgin Islands residents. The territory’s requirement that 80 percent of  employees be residents does not actually kick in until 11 months after the refinery has started producing refined oil, which is not expected until early spring.

Limetree now has also has over 90 employees at the terminal side of its operation and around 4,000 workers are employed through contractors preparing the refinery. Lever said Limetree has paid $32.8 million in quarterly payments required by the Terminal Operating Agreement in addition to the substantial initial payments to the government. He also said Limetree has met the requirements to support local charities, provide scholarships and support educational programs.

Senators, however, expressed concern about these figures. Some did not match figures provided by Kirk Callwood, executive director of the Public Finance Authority. Callwood testified Limetree had paid scholarships of $11,000 out of the required $200,000 and made charitable donations of $99,000 of the required $300,000.

Lever testified “Limetree has also awarded over $100,000 in scholarships to U.S. Virgin Islands high school graduates to further their college education, and have made over $300,000 in charitable donations this year.”

When questioned by Sen. Kurt Vialet about the discrepancies, testifiers said donations might still be in the approval process, and a typo appeared to have caused the discrepancy in the scholarship figures.

Since the quarterly payments Limetree makes to the government will be based on refinery sales, Sen. Allison DeGazon questioned what government agency would be responsible for keeping track of shipments from the refinery. She said she asked the question because “businesses have a way of only reporting what they want to report.”

After it was indicated the government would be relying on figures Limetree reported to it, Vialet said, “I hate self-reporting.” He said the government “should make sure we regulate what we are supposed to regulate.”

Sen. Alicia Barnes asked Callwood how prepared his agency was to monitor Limetree operations when it starts. Lever said the restarting of the refinery was 75 percent complete. Callwood said Public Finance is about 25 percent ready to monitor the operations.

Carol Techeira, compliance manager for the Limetree agreements at the Finance Authority, testified the government received from Limetree $4 million in 2016, $10 million in 2017, $10 million in 2018 and $7 million so far in 2019.

Limetree payments are to be based on 9 percent of its gross revenues. Lever said Limetree has now invested more than $1.6 billion dollars on St. Croix.

It has constructed a housing facility to accommodate 1,400 residents.

Students from the civics class at Good Hope Country Day School attended the hearing. To begin the round of questing Sen. Novelle Francis asked testifiers questions submitted by the students. The questions mostly expressed concern about how Limetree would protect the environment while conducting its operations.

Attending the hearing were Sens. Barnes, Vialet, Francis, DeGazon, Kenneth Gittens, Javan James and Athneil Thomas. Sen. Myron Jackson was absent.