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Bill Aiming to Streamline Clearance of Settled Mortgages Gains Senate Committee’s Approval



The Senate Committee on Budget, Appropriations, and Finance convened on Monday, green-lighting a bill set to streamline the discharge process of paid mortgages, especially where payment documentation is lacking at the recorder of deeds office. Spearheaded by Senator Marise James, the legislation, identified as Bill 35-0099, seeks to address common hurdles property owners face, especially when there’s no tangible proof of mortgage satisfaction.

Drawing from her real estate legal background, Sen. James elucidated the misconception among property owners that old, settled mortgages or other debt-securing instruments on real property would naturally dissipate over time. Contrarily, she highlighted that a mortgage lien remains intact until officially discharged, and any outstanding mortgages must be settled and recorded as such during property sales. She added that failing to satisfy mortgages at closing could expose the new buyer to foreclosure risks stemming from pre-existing mortgages.

Furthermore, Sen. James pointed out the potential refusal by title insurers to cover properties with outstanding, unrecorded mortgage discharges, adding a layer of complexity to the process.

The proposed legislation introduces a five-year timeframe, post which certain mortgages and other security interests would lapse, liberating otherwise encumbered properties. However, Sen. James was quick to assert that this initiative isn’t synonymous with debt relief, as it doesn’t absolve borrowers from their repayment responsibilities. She rallied her peers to back the bill, projecting smoother property transactions within the Virgin Islands as a result.

Walt Frazer from the V.I. Territorial Association of Realtors endorsed the bill, anticipating it could broaden the property market, particularly benefiting first-time buyers by eliminating at least one mortgage-related hurdle. He, however, proposed a supplementary educational element during mortgage closings, reminding buyers of the importance of retaining payment documentation and the procedure for recording mortgage satisfaction.

C. Portia Pierre, the Recorder of Deeds for St. Croix, suggested some clarifying verbiage in the draft bill, stipulating the requirement for lien holders to file written notices concerning expired security interests with the recorder of deeds office, failing which, the onus would fall on the property owner.

Nadia Harrigan, a legal counsel in the Lieutenant Governor’s Office, stressed the importance of an official notice from lien holders to the recorder of deeds office regarding expired security interests. While Sen. James was open to working together on refining the bill’s text concerning this suggestion, she didn’t see it as crucial.

The committee members expressed a positive outlook towards the bill, lauded by Senator Marvin Blyden as “common sense legislation.” Discussions also touched on aligning the security interest expiration period with the national Fair Credit Reporting Act by possibly extending it to 7 years, a notion neither opposed by Ms. Harrigan nor the Lieutenant Governor’s office.

The bill, having secured the committee’s nod, now advances to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary for further review and potential amendments before it can be enacted into law.

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VI Electron and Honeywell Forge New Path in Energy Storage for USVI Solar Initiatives



In a significant step forward for renewable energy in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Honeywell announced its collaboration with VI Electron on Tuesday. This partnership marks the beginning of an ambitious plan to implement the first of several advanced battery energy storage solutions (BESS) in up to six strategically placed solar parks across the territory.

The role of battery storage in these municipal solar projects cannot be overstated. It’s a game-changer, enabling the storage of excess energy produced during peak times. This not only guarantees a stable power supply but also enhances the overall efficiency of the power grid.

Honeywell’s inaugural BESS for VI Electron boasts an impressive 124 MW capacity. It features a comprehensive battery management system that promises advanced energy controls and an integrated safety system. This state-of-the-art system is a key to smarter energy management, allowing for precise forecasting and optimization of energy usage, thereby paving the way for a more cost-effective and efficient energy grid.

Governor Albert Bryan Jr. has expressed enthusiastic support for this initiative. He recognizes the alignment of Honeywell’s battery storage expertise with the territory’s vision for a greener future. Governor Bryan highlighted the significance of the VI Electron and Honeywell partnership as a catalyst in achieving the territory’s ambitious renewable energy target, aiming for at least 30 percent of energy consumption to be sourced from renewable methods.

Earlier in the year, the V.I. Water and Power Authority board greenlit power purchase agreements with VI Electron for solar energy provision and with Advance Power for the development of wind energy solutions. This move is a cornerstone in diversifying the territory’s energy sources.

The integration of renewable energy into the USVI’s energy portfolio is expected to bring about a substantial decrease in consumer energy costs. This is primarily attributed to a marked reduction in the Levelized Energy Adjustment Clause (LEAC). WAPA CEO Andrew Smith shared his optimistic outlook with board members in April, foreseeing a significant reduction in fuel costs for the territory.

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“Jump-Up!” Celebration Hindered by Christiansted’s Deteriorating Roads: Attendee Injured, Local Businesses Affected



The festive atmosphere of the “Jump-Up!” event in Christiansted was overshadowed by poor road conditions, impacting both vendors and attendees. Laurie Hirons, owner of Gecko Boutique, described to WTJX how vendors struggled with inadequate setup spaces, with some opting not to participate. “Setting up tents in what seemed like gutters was a challenge for many,” Hirons recounted.

Matt Ridgeway, chair of the Christiansted Retail & Restaurant Association, reported a distressing incident where an individual sustained arm injuries due to the hazardous roadways. Ridgeway expressed his concern, saying, “It’s troubling that our environment isn’t safer for everyone, locals and visitors alike.”

According to Ridgeway, the event saw a notable decrease in sales, attributing this to reduced pedestrian traffic. He observed a general reluctance among people to visit Christiansted under the current conditions.

Both Hirons and Ridgeway voiced their frustration over unfulfilled promises. Despite assurances from road contractor Marco St. Croix following a stakeholders’ meeting, the much-needed road repairs remain pending. Hirons expressed her disappointment to WTJX, stating, “Promises were made, yet we see no improvements.”

Ridgeway extended his concerns beyond the roads, highlighting broader issues affecting the Virgin Islands, such as environmental challenges and infrastructure needs. “Our focus shouldn’t be solely on tourist comfort but also on the wellbeing of St. Croix residents and all Virgin Islanders,” he remarked.

Emphasizing the urgency of addressing these issues, Ridgeway called for unity and accountability within the community. He stressed the importance of seizing current funding opportunities for recovery projects to build a better future for the territory. “We owe it to our children to make the most of this chance,” he asserted.

Ridgeway informed WTJX of an upcoming meeting with Waste Management Authority officials to discuss the long-standing issue of Christiansted’s road paving project, a source of frustration for residents and businesses for several years.

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S&P Global Foresees Potential Default for Ocean Point Terminals Amid Debt Concerns



S&P Global Ratings, a prominent credit rating agency, recently adjusted the debt rating of Limetree Bay Terminals LLC (now operating as Ocean Point Terminals in the USVI) to a lower level, signaling growing concerns over the company’s financial stability.

The downgrade, announced on November 17, shifted the company’s rating from CCC to CCC-, with a negative outlook. This change occurs as Ocean Point Terminals approaches the February 15, 2024, deadline to address its significant outstanding debt totaling approximately $476 million.

S&P Global Ratings expressed a stark assessment, stating that it anticipates Ocean Point Terminals will “likely default” or be compelled to negotiate a distressed exchange in the coming three months to manage its considerable debt. The agency did note, however, that this scenario could be avoided with a substantial increase in contracted business or an infusion of equity, though it deemed such developments unlikely.

Despite recent contract gains, S&P Global Ratings remains skeptical about the company’s ability to repay its loans through operational cash flows alone. The agency further noted that the current economic environment presents additional challenges to the company’s financial recovery.

The agency emphasized the high rates and unsustainable capital structure in the near term, pointing out the insufficiency of current and anticipated contracts to significantly alter the company’s financial course. As the February 15 maturity date for the debt nears, the likelihood of a distressed exchange — where a company negotiates with creditors to restructure its debt under more favorable terms — increases, influencing the negative outlook from S&P Global Ratings.

A distressed exchange could involve various restructuring strategies, including offering creditors equity in the company based on debt value or substituting existing debt with new, more favorable terms.

In the event of a distressed exchange or failure to meet interest or amortization payments, Ocean Point Terminals’ debt rating could face further downgrades. However, securing longer-term contracts that generate sufficient cash flow to cover debt service could lead to a revision of the company’s outlook to “stable,” as per S&P Global Ratings.

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