“The smell was so strong, like sulfur, like rotten eggs,” the 58-year-old homemaker recalled.

Then oil was found in her yard in mid-May. Two days earlier, a flare incident occurred on the Limetree Bay refinery upwind of Thomas’s residence. As flames and smoke billowed out of the flare stack, oil droplets had been launched into the sky, carried west by the wind and rained down on close by homes.

In a press release despatched to NCS, Limetree Bay mentioned it intends to cooperate with the EPA and the native authorities in “preparing for a safe and compliant restart of the refinery.”

Now St. Croix, a majority Black neighborhood within the Caribbean, is weighing its financial future in opposition to the well being and environmental impacts of betting massive on oil.

The refinery has been a key supply of jobs and income for an economic system battered by hurricanes and the pandemic. But among the islands’ 50,000 residents are questioning whether or not the value is simply too excessive, notably for a neighborhood on the entrance strains of the local weather change disaster within the type of sea degree rise and more and more highly effective storms.

“We are at a crossroads,” mentioned Jennifer Valiulis, the chief director of the St. Croix Environmental Association, who has been crucial of the plant’s operation. “We have an opportunity to examine what we want our economy to look like, what we want St. Croix to be in a world that’s moving away from fossil fuels as its primary energy source.”

For many years, residents of this 84-square-mile island, the most important of the three main U.S. Virgin Islands, have co-existed with main industrial manufacturing. The refinery first opened in 1966, and — beneath the administration of Hess Corporation after which Hovensa — boosted its Virgin Islander workforce into the center class.

But the environmental and well being tolls grew. In 2011, the Hovensa petroleum refinery — on the time the county’s second-largest — reached a settlement with the EPA to pay greater than $5.3 million for environmental violations.

The plant later closed and filed for chapter. With its shutdown went greater than 2,000 jobs.

Earlier this 12 months, the power — backed by personal fairness companies — resumed operations as Limetree Bay beneath a allow granted by the Trump administration with a plan to supply some 200,000 barrels of oil a day.

Virginia Clairmont, who runs a nonprofit working to revitalize the city of Frederiksted on the island’s western finish, advised NCS she had misgivings in regards to the refinery restarting within the first place. After a number of incidents, she needs it closed.

But, she mentioned, “if you talk about it, you’ll be attacked for trying to deprive other people of jobs.”

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The coronavirus pandemic solely added to the islands’ financial woes, shutting down a cruise business that brings in additional than 1.4 million vacationers per 12 months. Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated the Virgin Islands in 2017, and the islands nonetheless bear the scars: a sailboat tossed like a toy on the shore; a tattered blue tarp over a lacking roof, disintegrating within the relentless tropical solar.

On St. Croix, the plant restart created some 400 full-time jobs. Government officers estimate the operation might generate about $7 million in annual tax income.

Nellie Rivera-O’Reilly, a jewellery retailer proprietor on St. Croix and former legislator, was among the many native senators who voted to approve the plant’s reopening. “As a business owner now, I see the benefits of the refinery, or any employer of that magnitude, remaining viable on the island of St. Croix,” she mentioned.

Lawmakers had been notably involved about well being and security, she mentioned, and allotted cash for rigorous environmental monitoring.

“These things happen in these types of industries,” Rivera-O’Reilly added. “The thing to do is to make sure we learn and put in place measures to prevent this from happening.”

The Limetree Bay refinery is seen from above in St. Croix, Virgin Islands, Thursday, March 18, 2021. The Limetree Bay refinery is seen from above in St. Croix, Virgin Islands, Thursday, March 18, 2021.

EPA officers say they’ve obtained lots of of calls and emails complaining in regards to the plant since February. Tysha Henry, who grew up on St. Croix, was among the many callers.

Henry, an HR supervisor in Atlanta, was visiting her mom on the island in May when she mentioned an overwhelming gasoline scent jolted her awake in the course of the evening.

“It felt like I was going to asphyxiate or something,” she mentioned. The scent abated inside an hour however the subsequent morning, she mentioned, her eyes and face had been swollen and puffy.

“I will not be going back home as long as this smell is there,” mentioned Henry.

Lawsuits representing hundreds of residents have been filed in opposition to the refinery in latest weeks.
The EPA’s shutdown order, which was handed down at a second environmental advocacy teams are urgent the Biden administration to convey environmental justice to communities of colour, is simply the fourth time the company has used its emergency powers to quickly shut a plant.
It got here two days after the refinery introduced it was halting production on its own after the May 12 flare incident that spewed oil on homes west of the power — homes the place residents catch rainwater on their roofs and retailer it in below-ground cisterns for ingesting, bathing and cooking. The order requires unbiased audits of the refinery’s operations and its skill to adjust to “environmental, health and safety limits.”

“This already overburdened community has suffered through at least four recent incidents that have occurred at the facility, and each had an immediate and significant health impact on people and their property,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan mentioned in a press release asserting the emergency motion.

Limetree CEO Jeffrey Rinker described the federal order as illegal and “unnecessary” as a result of the plant already had idled operations voluntarily. The company argues there is not any proof that their plant is the supply of among the noxious odors, noting {that a} government-run landfill due west of the refinery had caught hearth in early May and will have contributed to the foul smells.
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In the assertion despatched to NCS, Limetree Bay officers mentioned: “We have no plans to restart the refinery before it is safe to do so.”

“Notwithstanding some of our struggles during this restart period, we remain committed to being a good neighbor and responsible member of the St. Croix community,” they mentioned.

When the refinery reopened as Limetree in February, Virgin Islands Gov. Albert Bryan, Jr., a Democrat, heralded it as a “big victory for St. Croix” and the broader US territory.

“In these difficult economic times, I am very pleased that the Refinery is creating hundreds of well-paying, quality jobs,” he mentioned in a press release.

Aides to Bryan didn’t reply to requests for an interview, however Bryan called the flare incident “totally unacceptable.”

He expressed hope, nevertheless, that the plant officers “can rectify whatever the issues are and resume operations.”

Thomas, the girl who had oil in her yard and mentioned she had a response to noxious fumes, mentioned the smells that bothered her for weeks have eased, because the closing of the refinery.

Since then, she mentioned, the refinery operators have washed her automobiles, given her three instances of bottled water and promised to get again in contact about oil that will have contaminated her cistern.

As unsettling because the incidents have been, Thomas mentioned she would not need the plant to shut down completely. It “brings a lot of jobs here,” she mentioned. “I would not want them to close.”

“But I want them to take more precautions,” Thomas added. “You can have all the money in the world, but you can’t enjoy it if you have no health.”