March 19, 2009 — The Captain Morgan's rum distillery planned for St. Croix will release no molasses or other effluent into the sea, instead converting it to organic solids suitable for soil enrichment, Diageo officials told the V.I. Coastal Zone Management committee Wednesday. At the committee's public hearing on the Diageo CZM permit in the Henry E. Rohlsen Airport conference room, officials outlined an array of measures being taken to make the distillery both efficient and low-impact and emphasized their commitment to hire and train locally.
Diageo has leased land on the northwest corner of the St. Croix Renaissance Park, adjacent to the Melvin Evans Highway to construct the plant. The Virgin Islands Government is financing the construction of the plant but will ultimately recoup the financing and take in nearly $3 billion in remitted rum excise taxes over the 30-year term of Diageo's agreement with the government. (See: "Diageo Picks Site For Captain Morgan Rum Distillery").
Although the plant will be able to produce 20 million proof gallons of rum a year, it's designed to release no water and no effluent, said Dan Kirby, vice president of Supply, Diageo U.S. Virgin Islands.
"Two products come out," Kirby said. "One is Captain Morgan's rum, which will go from there to our barreling complex further west on the island to put the rum into barrels for aging." The other is the fermented molasses mash left after distillation, which the plant will process into valuable byproducts. The lees left from distillation will be treated in tanks with aerobic and anaerobic bacteria, a process not unlike how municipal wastewater is processed into clean water and sludge, he said.
"This will generate biogas which we will use to generate steam for the distillation process, making it very energy efficient and reducing our use of petroleum," he said. After processing, the solids will be a granular organic mix that is rich in nitrogen and other compounds that are good for enriching the soil. They plan to give it away, possibly to use it to create a topsoil layer over the Anguilla landfill as part of the landfill's closing process, or to create ground cover atop the red, dusty hillock of bauxite tailings at the site of the former aluminum plant on the St. Croix Renaissance property. If necessary, it can be shipped off island and sold as a soil-enriching agent, Kirby said.
Other design elements will help make the plant more efficient and more environmentally friendly than large distilleries of the past. All the tanks will be sealed, so there should be no evaporation or odor. All the water used will be cleaned by evaporation and recycled. The amount of energy needed to distill the rum is reduced by using vacuum distillation columns, functionally similar to those at Hovensa, which distill the alcohol at lower temperatures. And the plant is cooled with seawater, drawn in and, after being air-cooled to ambient temperatures, released through pre-existing inflow and outflow lines.
Building the plant will create two phases of employment. Construction itself will require between 200 and 300 workers. Then in the second phase, the plant will need 40 to 70 full time employees, Rob Irby said.
"No less than 80 percent of those jobs will go to Virgin Islands residents," Irby said.
Once permits are in place, construction should begin within a few weeks, and the plant is scheduled to be complete and producing rum in 2011.
Of four people who spoke during public comments after Diageo made its presentation, three gave unqualified support and the fourth said he wanted the plant to come to St. Croix but had some concerns.
"They say it will be a green project," said George Flores of Frederiksted. "I'm hoping it will be a very green project and you know the type of green I want to see coming in."
Flores said he supports the project because of the jobs and tax revenue it will bring.
Omer ErSelcuk, president of the St. Croix Chamber of Commerce, read a statement of support from the chamber, and Jack Thomas a partner at St. Croix Renaissance Park, spoke in support too. Diageo is leasing land from St. Croix Renaissance, so Thomas has a financial stake in the venture's success.
Cletus Emmanuel of St. Croix supported the project but voiced a note of concern.
"I would love to see Diageo come to St. Croix," Emmanuel said. But the Environmental Assessment Report filed with CZM is thin on data, declaring the plant to have a minimal impact without demonstrating the data, he said. "This is a narrative. Where is the data?" he said.
Emmanuel also wanted to see more detailed plans for how Diageo would respond to a spill or large release of effluent, rum, molasses or fuel, and how the plant could ensure its tanks won't rust or leak into the soil decades in the future.
Now that it has held a public hearing, the CZM committee members must rule on the permit application within 30 days. Anyone interested can submit their written comments to the committee for the next seven days. You can bring comments to the St. Croix office at no. 45 Mars Hill, in the Rainbow Building adjacent to the police station in Hannah's Rest, or to the St. Thomas office in the Cyril E. King Airport. Or you can fax them to the St. Croix office at (340) 773-3343.
Masserae Sprauve-Webster, who chaired the meeting, said the committee had tentatively scheduled the decision hearing for April 8, but would make a formal announcement once the date was confirmed.
The agreement with Diageo will bring approximately $2.9 billion in new excise-tax revenues into the government's coffers throughout the life of the agreement, according to Government House. Rum production is expected to start in 2012, with the distillery producing an average of 20 million-proof gallons each year.
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