Refinery closure may jeopardise USVI aviation industry

ST THOMAS, USVI — Governor John de Jongh said on Friday he shares the concerns of the aviation industry on St Croix, which has warned the US Virgin Islands’ elected leaders that continued air traffic to the island can be jeopardized by the planned shutdown of the HOVENSA facility.

“Elected leaders including myself and members of the 30th Legislature have received correspondence by fixed-base operators on St Croix that the island simply does not have the storage capacity for jet and aviation fuel outside of the HOVENSA facilities,” de Jongh said.

The concerns of these business owners are very real and without question, these small business operators will be caught in the middle, he added.

De Jongh said without the storage capacity on St Croix he sees the problem of fuel supply extending beyond the fixed-base operators. “This is an issue for inter-island commuters such as Seaborne, Sea Flight and Cape Air and for jets that fly in and out of St Croix. If there is not a fuel supply at an affordable cost, these airlines will simply seek another source of fuel elsewhere and that could threaten the future of these flights to the island.”

“We must be mindful that St Croix has been attractive for the airline operators over the years and in fact a niche market had been established on the island given the length of the runway of the Henry E. Rohlsen Airport and the relative inexpensive cost of jet and aviation fuel,” he added.

Tourism Commissioner Beverly Nicholson-Doty commented on the anticipated impact on the department’s continued effort at further developing airlift to St Croix. “The availability and affordability of fuel is critical to continued airlift development. Our efforts would be negatively affected if either was compromised.”

De Jongh also said on Friday that the Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs continues the effort to determine whether St Croix service station retailers have established supply contracts with outside vendors.

“The DLCA has determined that potential Puerto Rico-based suppliers have been contacted by the three fuel haulers on St Croix. “The St Croix retailers may have to depend on these three companies for fuel supply once the fuel supply at the HOVENSA truck rack ceases to exist,” de Jongh said.

He said the DLCA has also determined that none of the service stations have invested in any additional storage facilities. DLCA also had discussions with an entity that was willing to renovate the storage tanks at Renaissance on St Croix, but they too wanted to wait and see if fuel would continue to be available at HOVENSA. A recent survey has indicated that the haulers still have not formalized agreements with alternative suppliers but all have identified where they will get supply if necessary.

On St Thomas, the service stations appear to be in relative good shape.

“The retailers have struck arrangements with wholesalers who are presently receiving their fuel supply from alternative sources,” he added.

De Jongh said that DLCA will continue meeting with the fuel retailers, wholesalers and haulers as necessary.

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