From: Mat Probasco, Associated Press
Published June 9, 2005 12:00 AM

U.S. Virgin Islands Government Sues Oil Refinery, Alumina Plant for Damaging Environment

CHARLOTTE AMALIE, U.S. Virgin Islands — The U.S. Virgin Islands filed suit Wednesday suing the Western Hemisphere's second largest oil refinery and a defunct alumina plant for allegedly releasing pollutants that tainted the groundwater and marine and coastal resources on St. Croix island.


The suit claims Hovensa refinery and St. Croix Alumina were responsible for "numerous unpermitted releases (that) have resulted in injury to not only marine and coastal resources but also the destruction of a significant portion of St. Croix's Kingshill Aquifer."


The aquifer is the sole groundwater supply on the island of 110,000 people, which also has a desalination plant.


The suit seeks the money to repair the damages and compensation for the temporary loss of use of the natural resources, said Dean Plaskett, commissioner of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources.


It names the majority owner of the oil refinery Hovensa L.L.C and Hess Oil Virgin Islands Corp. -- New York-based Amerada Hess Corp. -- along with six companies that owned St. Croix Alumina.


The refinery and aluminum plant that are adjacent in St. Croix, the southernmost island in the U.S. Caribbean territory, reached an agreement in 2001 with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to clean up petroleum that had leaked into groundwater. As much as 2 million gallons (7.57 million liters) of petroleum seeped into the groundwater underlying the aluminum plant between 1978 and 1991, according to the EPA Web site.


It was not immediately clear if the U.S. Virgin Islands suit was related to the EPA suit.


St. Croix Alumina stopped production in December 2000.


Officials from both companies declined comment Wednesday.


Source: Associated Press


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