Crucian groups call for action to determine their own economic future

The Holy Cross neighborhood of Clifton Hill overlooks a quiet Limetree Bay refinery on Tuesday, May 25 after a chimney fire and a huge oil torch caused a 60-day shutdown ordered by the US Protection Agency. environment. (Photo source by Patricia Borns)

With Governor Albert Bryan Jr. and the leaders of Limetree Bay actively seeking a buyer to restart the closed St. Croix Oil Refinery, an Engage VI Town Hall hosted by the St. Croix Foundation for Community Development Thursday invited Crucians to reimagine their economy without it and ended with a call to action.

The Zoom rally – one of three dedicated to the refinery’s community impact – came just as the EPA announced that Limetree would begin shutting down on Saturday with a one-day pilot light test to ensure that his isolated torch has been repaired.

“I’m sure history will confirm that we were on the right side of this moment,” said Foundation President Deanna James, recalling the first shutdown under Hovensa.

At the time, the foundation and other grassroots groups held roundtables with attendees from business, government and base residents, Williams said. The results were unexpected.

“One of the things that surprised us the most was how resolute residents were in 2012 that the refinery was part of the island’s past,” she said. “Overwhelmingly, they were excited to imagine something healthier and more sustainable. (But) our decision-makers have opted by default for the same economic strategy.

The groups are determined this time to put their economic ideas into policies and programs, aided by funds deployed by the Biden administration to help black and brown communities like St. Croix recover from their exposure to heavy industry. .

From a panel chosen for its broad representation – Nathaniel Smith, CEO of Partners for Southern Equity; Wayne Biggs Jr., director of the Virgin Islands Economic Development Authority; Walter Mugdan, administrator of Region 2 of the Environmental Protection Agency; Sydney Paul, Head of Business Intelligence and Marketing for the University of the Virgin Islands Research and Technology Park, presented many possible business initiatives, including:

– Prioritize funding and technical assistance for Crucian farmers to participate in the powerful agricultural economy and reduce reliance on imported food.

– Make our natural resources – beaches, rainforests and reefs – a priority to support our tourism industry while balancing the other industries we rely on.

– Based on the recent Vision 2040 prospectus from the EDA, resize the VI tourist offer by emphasizing sport, adventure and well-being; heritage and culture; longer stays; and smaller, more relaxed accommodation and dining venues.

– The territory currently has around 70 technology companies, 45 of which have been integrated over the past two years as part of UVI RT Park programs. Support these programs with a workforce talent database that companies can tap into and a job search platform for outsiders with STEM skills to connect with opportunities. in their country. Teach residents young and old to code with bootcamps and other short programs to help them learn skills.

– Promote renewable energy companies and jobs that harness solar and wind energy, biomass, waste and other sustainable energy sources.

– Stimulate a health sciences sector, creating jobs in telemedicine and specialized care.

– Another objective of Vision 2040: Encourage light manufacturing companies such as the packaging and promotion of regional foods, or the development of hemp-based construction materials.

– Reaching professional and technology service sectors to attract customer service call centers and back office / remote office support.

– As the headquarters of a great Caribbean university, making research a viable industry as well as a source of solutions.

– Spend money to build human infrastructure. Talent attracts companies.

– Invest in community organization to change the relationship between people and the people who make decisions. Increase influence and power in the community.

Beyond commitment, a place at the table
Participants asked the EDA Biggs many questions about whether the demographics of Vision 2040 participants and the makeup of the EDA itself represented the Crucian population, which is roughly 75% black and living significantly near or below the poverty line.

The statue that symbolizes freedom in the US Virgin Islands, in front of the customs house in downtown Frederiksted, St. Croix. (Photo source by Patricia Borns)

But participants broadly agreed with Vision 2040’s dual purpose – lowering the cost of doing business in the USVI and embracing “industries of the future” – and almost all of its specific recommendations. None of the participants mentioned the refinery in their ideas.

The real problem, everyone agrees, is getting government buy-in and funding to move forward. As one participant, Ryan Flegal noted, “Notably absent from all the public meetings around the refinery and our next step forward has been our governor. “

Only two senators, Samuel Carrion and Genevieve Whitaker, were present.

Much of the excitement and discussion revolved around Biden’s administration programs such as Justice 40 who could provide funds for Crucian’s needs.

“Justice 40 demands that 40% of all dollars spent on climate issues go to disenfranchised communities,” Smith said. “So what are we going to do about it?” We created the Justice 40 Accelerator, providing funds for black and brown businesses to effectively compete for the dollars that are going to go down. “

Smith is hopeful that a nonprofit in St. Croix will be ready to apply for the next installment of Justice 40 funding. The FY22 federal budget will also contain significant funding for environmental justice, he said. he declares.

EPA Region 2 office speaks with Environmental Association of Sainte-Croix about a potentially funded scientific citizen monitoring program. Also from Region 2, Dave Kuesner mentioned the US bailout whose healthy buildings program is offering USVI and Puerto Rico $ 300,000 for lead, asbestos and mold removal.

“Other federal agencies – Housing and Urban Development, Health and Human Services – have more resources than we do,” Mugdan said. “The most important thing you can do is what you do: organize yourself and form collaborations. We can keep you up to date with grant opportunities and be a convener to bring you together with other agencies in a collaborative manner.

Superfund site – What are the odds?
Since Limetree announced its long-term shutdown, Crucians have wondered if it could become a Superfund site to make sure it’s cleaned up. Not easily, Mugdan replied.

The Superfund is one of the EPA’s two main programs that clean up hazardous waste, he explained. Typically, it is used for dormant sites; not, like Limetree, under corrective action.

The program begins with a preliminary assessment and site inspection. Then it is classified according to the risk it poses to human health and the environment. Sites rated 28.5 or higher are eligible for the Superfund, Mugdan said. Experts including former EPA Region 2 administrator Judith Enck believe Limetree would rank high.

The EPA then proposes a clean-up plan, taking public comment, and publishes a final decision. The polluter pays for the cleanup unless the entity is dead or broke. In this case, the Superfund pays 90 percent and the local government 10 percent of the cleaning costs.

But, Mugdan said, of 47,000 sites assessed by the EPA, only 1,813 were placed on the Superfund list.

And the EPA doesn’t put sites on the list unless the state or territory – in this case Bryan or Department of Planning and Natural Resources Commissioner Jean-Pierre Oriol – requests it.

And after?
Frandelle Gerard, who heads the Crucian Heritage and Nature Tourism Foundation and moderated the panel, said working groups are forming to implement the ideas of the community.

Volunteers are needed to research Superfund sites and help the community better understand them; develop organizational strategies, not only for the local community, but to draw a larger circle that includes St. Thomas and St. John; and much more.

“The organization is leading to a change in policy,” Gérard said. “We vote and get angry because the people we voted for aren’t doing what we think they should. But who is leading these leaders? “

For more information on working groups or to join one, contact Jennifer Valiulis of the St. Croix Environmental Association at 340-773-1989 or [email protected]

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