At a special Senate session last week, concerns surfaced over how the planned shutdown of Hovensa could affect the aviation industry on St. Croix, but government officials said recently that a contact has been made with off-island fuel haulers that could be used to supply jet fuel if the refinery’s rack is shut down.
Anthony Weeks, managing director of the St. Croix Economic Development Initiative, and Sam Black, Bohlke International’s general manager, were scheduled to testify at last week’s special Senate session but instead met with the majority caucus afterward to discuss what St. Croix has in terms of other fuel storage facilities – and what the immediate impact of the Senate’s decision to cut off negotiations with Hovensa would bring.
"It will literally shut down the St. Croix airport’s ability to fuel aircraft because we just don’t have the infrastructure outside of Hovensa," Weeks told the Source. He explained that while St. Thomas currently has approximately 2 million gallons of fuel storage capacity, made available from independent operators, St. Croix only has about 100,000 gallons of capacity on its own.
"So when you think of whether or not that can work – from what was told to the senators by Bohlke, that would be used up in just a weekend, so St. Croix would no longer have the capacity to supply the commercial airlines, postal service planes, Federal Express and military aircraft," Weeks said. He added that, technically, fuel can be brought in from the outside, but the cost is still high and the question of where it would be stored comes back to the forefront.
Weeks’ organization is attempting to address the issue through a bill recently submitted to the Senate for the creation of an auto and jet fuel depot on St. Croix. The Senate has received the bill, Weeks confirmed this week, and it is now up to them to act.
Meanwhile various government leaders have sounded off on the argument; Gov. John deJongh Jr. said in recent statement that he shared the concerns.
"Elected leaders, including myself and members of the 30th Legislature, have received correspondence by fixed-based operators on St. Croix that the island simply does not have the storage capacity for jet and aviation fuel outside of the Hovensa facilities," the governor said. "The concerns of these business owners are very real and, without question, these operators will be caught in the middle."
The problem will extend to local operators, from Seaborne to Cape Air, and the governor said that if fuel is not provided at an affordable cost, any airline could look for cheaper supplies elsewhere, "threatening the future of these flights to the island."
Both Weeks and deJongh have pointed out that St. Croix’s unique position – with the long runway at the Henry E. Rohlsen Airport and the generally inexpensive cost of jet fuel (up until now) – has made the island attractive to airline operators for years.
More recently, Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs Commissioner Wayne Biggs has said that if fuel from Hovensa becomes unavailable, gas could be moved through the island from trucks or trailers loaded on and off barges. This week, Biggs also said that three fuel haulers on St. Croix have reached out to potential suppliers in Puerto Rico, which deJongh said in another statement might be used for fuel supply once Hovensa has exhausted its current inventory.
No formal agreements have been made, and the question of where the fuel will be stored – until Weeks’ bill is considered or new storage tanks are built on St. Croix – still remains.
On a positive note, the situation with Hovensa will have little to no impact for St. Thomas, according to Cyril E. King Airport manager Jose Nazario.
In a statement to the Source, Nazario said that Total Petroleum supplies the jet fuel for Cyril E. King and that the airport does not necessarily rely on Hovensa.
"This decision was prompted by Hovensa’s initial disclosure a year or so ago of their intent to close their St. Croix operations," Nazario said. "As a result, Total resorted to other suppliers of jet fuel. We have been assured by Total management that Hovensa’s closure will not impact the needs or airfield demands at CEKA."
Total Petroleum has two above-ground storage tanks on St. Thomas, with a combined capacity of 924,000 gallons, Nazario added.
The governor has also said that DLCA will continue meeting with fuel retailers, wholesalers and haulers as necessary.