Senators Tell Limetree Execs Public Must Be Kept Informed of Incidents

The Limetree Bay refinery stands inactive after the Environmental Protection Agency ordered a 60-day pause in operations on Friday. (Source photo by Patricia Downs)
Senate President Donna Frett-Gregory during a January Senate session. (File photo by Alvin Burke Jr.)

Residents of the Virgin Islands require timely notice when industrial accidents such as the recent string of incidents at the Limetree Bay refinery, members of the 34th Legislature told executives of the company during a meeting Tuesday on St. Thomas.

According to a news release issued on Tuesday by Senate President Donna Frett-Gregory, lawmakers told the executives that before the refinery reopens, the Legislature will convene as a Committee of the Whole to fully inform the public about what happened and what steps have been taken to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Limetree Bay CEO Jeffrey Rinker provided information to the senators on incidents that occurred in February and culminating last week in the Environmental Protection Agency ordering the refinery to cease operations for 60 days to deal with a system that launched potentially harmful chemicals and oil across St. Croix, creating a noxious odor that permeated the western part of the island.

Limetree officials told the senators that it has established an “Incident Command Center” that can be reached by calling 340-692-3199. Surveyors are fanning out in the community to assess the impact to homes in communities as far west as Estate Hannah’s Rest, the company officials continued, and protocol has been established to clean roofs, cisterns and cars that were impacted.

“It was clear from the meeting that the dissemination of timely and accurate information to the public warrant attention,” Frett-Gregory’s news release said. “There is not a clear protocol established on who within the Government of the Virgin Islands is the point of contact for notification when there is an incident. Further based on the meeting, while information on what has transpired is shared with the various departments, the flow of information between Limetree and the Government of the Virgin Islands is not as smooth as it should be.”

According to the release, all senators present urged Limetree’s executive team to meet with members of the press and not just issue press releases, so that the public can hear directly what is occurring in the facility.

Since the approval of Limetree’s refining agreement, the Legislature has appropriated approximately $2 million during the last three fiscal years to the Department of Planning and Natural Resources for the equipment and personnel to allow the government to monitor the air quality on St. Croix. This was done, Frett-Gregory’s statement said, because under the EPA permit Limetree obtained, the monitors would not be required. The 32nd Legislature thought it prudent to have the air quality monitored and provided the funding to ensure that DPNR could do so, Frett-Gregory said.

Limetree Bay CEO Jeff Rinker (File photo)

The refinery officials agreed that in “the spirit of being responsible corporate citizens and partner to the Government of the Virgin Islands,” they would reinstall the monitors, despite their belief that they are not required to do so under the terms of their permit.

Limetree advised the members that once a timeline on the purchase and installation has been established that the Legislature will be notified simultaneously as Limetree notifies the EPA.

The number-one priority to lawmakers is the well-being of Virgin Islanders, the senators told the company execs, calling for Limetree and the Government of the Virgin Islands to work during the shutdown to establish a notification and communication protocol that allows Crucians to receive information on a timely basis on the potential hazards. Allowing the EPA to investigate the issues surrounding the emissions will allow the Legislature to have data, test results and a corrective action plan to discuss.

The final report from the EPA will allow senators to bring before them all involved in the emissions and odors experienced, the news release said. Additionally, should the government need to obtain additional resources to address this matter, the Legislature is prepared to appropriate the necessary funding.

Frett-Gregory told Limetree officials about the Legislature’s plans to convene a public session so that the public can be kept informed.

“True collaboration must occur in order for the public to have a sense of security. It is important that our residents are aware of the parameters established to keep them safe and the protocols established should there be a future incident at the facility,” Frett-Gregory said.

Members of the Legislature present were Sens. Frett-Gregory, Novelle E. Francis Jr., Genevieve Whitaker, Marvin Blyden, Samuel Carrión, Dwayne DeGraff, Kenneth L. Gittens, Franklin D. Johnson, Steven Payne Sr., Milton Potter, Janelle K. Sarauw and Kurt A. Vialet. Limetree’s executive team included Rinker, Jeff Charles, Neil Morgan, Franklin Quow and Tarah Graham-Hodge.