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    Port Hamilton Refining issues statement on refinery ownership


    June 24, 2022 - Suzanne Carlson, The Virgin Islands Daily News, St. Thomas

     

      Jun. 24—Port Hamilton Refining and Transportation, and Government House both issued statements a day after a surprise announcement by West Indies Petroleum Limited that the Jamaica-based company did not have any ownership in Limetree Bay Refinery on St. Croix.

      "The Limetree Bay Refinery was earlier this year successfully purchased by Port Hamilton Refining and Transportation, as reflected in the bankruptcy court filings. WIPL did not take title to the refinery. The refinery remains owned by Port Hamilton. Port Hamilton was the legal entity used to acquire the Limetree Bay Refinery in St. Croix and it also is a separate legal entity from WIPL," according to the statement by Port Hamilton headlined "Clarification on Ownership of Limetree Bay Refinery."

      While local and federal authorities have been referring to West Indies Petroleum and Port Hamilton Refining as joint bidders and winners of the refinery's December bankruptcy auction, WIPL issued a statement Wednesday denying all ownership interest in the refinery.

      Thursday's statement from Port Hamilton Refining also noted that, "all relevant authorities which approved and regulated the sale of the refinery are fully aware of the aforementioned circumstances in which the transaction was completed. With the sale of the Limetree Bay Refinery being closed by Port Hamilton, we wish to again thank all stakeholders who assisted in the successfully completed transaction."

      Following the release of that statement, representatives from Port Hamilton Refining did not immediately respond to questions from The Daily News, including a request for information about the company's directors.

      The statement followed one from Government House that noted "the Government of the Virgin Islands takes very seriously the stewardship of the Limetree Bay refinery" and that regurgitated legalese.

      "The sale of the refinery was conducted pursuant to the legal procedures and processes of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. The details of that sale are publicly available in the docket of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division, Case 21-32351," according to the Government House statement.

      Further, it noted, the court approved the sale on Dec. 21, "pursuant to the terms of the Asset Purchase Agreement attached to the order. West Indies Petroleum Limited (WIPL) together with Port Hamilton Refining and Transportation LLLP (PHRT), were designated as the winning bidder under the order and are parties to the Asset Purchase Agreement as purchaser."

      "Title to the Purchased Assets was transferred to Port Hamilton at the time of closing, per the bill of sale attached to the Asset Purchase Agreement. So, while both WIPL and Port Hamilton were Purchasers under the Agreement, the court filings indicate that title to the assets and contracts was in Port Hamilton from the onset. All of this information has been and continues to be public record."

      It was unclear, however, why Government House waited a full day after the WIPL statement to respond. The Daily News received WIPL's statement at 7:59 a.m. Wednesday. Richard Motta Jr., the spokesman for Gov. Albert Bryan Jr., was subsequently contacted for comment, but never returned messages. On Thursday — given the Bryan administration's touting of transparency — Motta was contacted for comment following the release of statements from both Government House and Port Hamilton. Motta again did not respond.

      The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is responsible for overseeing refinery operations and enforcing the Clean Air Act to protect the environment, as well as public health and safety. To date, the agency's website refers to Limetree owners as WIPL and PHRT.

      As recent as March 22, or nearly three months after the purchase, the EPA issued a press release saying that the agency had "sent a letter to West Indies Petroleum Limited (WIPL) and Port Hamilton Refining and Transportation, LLLP (PHRT) — the new owners of the former Limetree Bay refinery on St. Croix — informing them that, based on the information currently available to EPA, there are strong indicators to suggest that the refinery must obtain a Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) permit prior to any potential startup of refinery operations."

      And as of Thursday evening, the EPA website also states that, "EPA continues its work to protect the community near the refinery, now owned by the West Indies Petroleum Limited and Port Hamilton Refining and Transportation, LLLP."

      The EPA issued a statement Wednesday saying only that officials are consulting with the U.S. Justice Department, but did not offer any additional responses to Thursday's statement from Port Hamilton Refining.

      The refinery had previously shut down in 2012 after years of economic troubles were compounded by violations of the Clean Air Act. The brief but disastrous restart in February 2021 resulted in several environmental contamination incidents that left at least 1,200 nearby homes coated in oil particles and the layoff of hundreds of refinery employees and contractors.

      The EPA issued an emergency shutdown order on May 14, 2021, requiring Limetree to cease refinery operations after the repeated flares and oil sprays contaminated drinking water and crops.

      The U.S. Justice Department filed a complaint on behalf of the EPA in July 2021, saying that Limetree Bay refinery officials publicly minimized serious accidents and chemical releases that endangered St. Croix residents' health as early as December, two months before the refinery officially restarted operations.

      U.S. Magistrate Judge Emile Henderson III has stayed all proceedings in that case until Aug. 22, according to court records. — Contact Suzanne Carlson at 340-714-9122 or email scarlson@dailynews.vi.

      ___

      (c)2022 The Virgin Islands Daily News (St. Thomas, VIR)

      Visit The Virgin Islands Daily News (St. Thomas, VIR) at www.virginislandsdailynews.com

      Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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