At 6 a.m., Monday, Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. learned that the Limetree Bay Refinery would be shut down, affecting as many as 800 jobs directly and indirectly. It did not come as a big surprise, the governor said at a news conference Monday afternoon.
Since May, when the Environmental Protection Agency ordered a 60-day “temporary” closure over spills of oil and emissions of foul-smelling chemicals, Bryan said the government has been trying to line up new investors, but with no luck. The government also has been looking for new businesses for the territory, he said.
Bryan confirmed that 271 employees have been directly terminated and said 500 to 600 direct jobs and 100 to 200 indirect jobs, such as delivery services, will also be impacted, as well as several hundred households. He said the government is perusing the Limetree agreement carefully.
“At this point, we don’t have any idea when the refinery will restart, or if it will restart,” Bryan said.
The governor added that Limetree’s shutdown of the refinery will not affect the oil storage terminal, which is a separate entity with about 88 employees.
In announcing the decision to close the facility, Limetree Bay Energy on Monday cited “severe financial constraints.”
The refinery was closed temporarily on May 12, by the Environmental Protection Agency after accidental oil emissions and community complaints of foul odors.
“Limetree Bay has been working to obtain capital to assist in its restart efforts. Regrettably, the company has been unable to secure the necessary funding and will be required to reduce the refinery’s workforce by approximately 271 employees, effective Sept. 19, 2021,” the company’s release said.
Bryan said that since Limetree’s takeover two years ago, there have been many problems refitting the refinery for use, especially when COVID shut down the workforce.
When it opened in February, “it was one year behind schedule and 100 percent over budget,” Bryan said.
Delegate to Congress Stacey Plaskett, the Department of Labor, along with the rest of the governor’s cabinet, have been informed about Limetree’s action. Labor Commissioner Gary Molloy has called up his rapid response team to prepare for unemployed workers. Bryan said the DOL was awarded a $9 million grant to train 600 people in construction, carpentry, electrical work, administrative positions and miscellaneous on-the-job training.
The first helping hand is a government job fair to be held Tuesday at the St. Croix Education Complex and Thursday at St. Thomas’s Tutu Park Mall.
“As a former Labor commissioner during the closure of the Hovensa refinery, I witnessed firsthand the anxiety and economic turmoil experienced by the families affected, and I remain hopeful that we can arrive at a quick resolution to the issues standing in the way of the safe restart of the refinery for their sake and for that of the vendors who directly and indirectly benefit from the refinery,” Bryan said in a news release.