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Court Denies Ocean Point Terminals’ Request to Stop Water Program

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In a decisive move, District Court Judge Lewis dismissed Ocean Point Terminals’ (formerly known as Limetree Bay Terminals) plea to interrupt the commencement of a mandated water distribution scheme.

Tracing back to January 2023, residents of St. Croix raised an appeal suggesting the establishment of a new water distribution mechanism. Their concerns stemmed from the potential adverse effects of the 2021 flare event at the refinery, which they believed might have tainted the island’s water reservoirs. In light of the intricacies surrounding the issue, the District Court opted for a two-tiered approach in February: first identifying the need and then chalking out the blueprint of the program.

Following an intensive four-day evidence gathering session in April, the court, in its phase one analysis, concluded a pressing need for a water distribution system. This was especially pertinent for those residents who faced challenges accessing uncontaminated water without compromising other fundamental necessities.

In July 2023, the court conducted yet another series of detailed hearings to scrutinize the operational facets of the program. Based on its phase two findings, the water distribution initiative was formally inaugurated.

Ocean Point Terminals, however, took issue with the court’s decision. On August 7, they signaled their intention to challenge the preliminary directive. A day later, they sought a temporary halt, hoping to freeze the preliminary directive while they pursued their appeal.

In their appeal, Ocean Point largely echoed their prior reservations—most of which the court had already set aside. They highlighted the significant financial burden of potentially shelling out almost $7 million annually on water-related expenses alone. The crux of their argument rested on differentiating themselves from the actual culprits behind the alleged contamination. Ocean Point stressed that just because Limetree Bay Refinery and Limetree Bay Terminals were affiliated, it shouldn’t imply the terminal’s accountability for damages initiated by the refinery.

Furthermore, they expressed concerns that the water scheme could potentially mislead the community into assuming a broad-scale water pollution problem, a claim they believed lacked concrete evidence. In their words, the plaintiffs’ claims were largely “founded on speculation,” and it’s unfair to penalize them based on hypotheticals.

Addressing their concerns, the court reminded Ocean Point that rehashing previously dismissed arguments wouldn’t necessarily pave the way for a favorable appeal verdict. The court also touched upon Ocean Point’s anxieties over irreversible reputational fallout from overseeing the water project. However, the court highlighted that the company’s image might already have suffered due to existing documents connecting them with the purported water quality issues.

Factoring in all the arguments, Judge Lewis remained steadfast in his commitment to the well-being of the community. He underscored the paramount importance of maintaining uninterrupted access to potable water for St. Croix’s residents and, consequently, ruled against Ocean Point’s appeal.

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viNGN Aims to Revamp Pricing Structure to Tackle High Internet Costs in the USVI

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During a detailed briefing to the Senate Committee on Economic Development and Agriculture about the fiscal health of the V.I. Next Generation Network, CEO Stephan Adams addressed the high cost of internet services in the territory. He attributed these steep prices to challenges in reducing wholesale rates.

The discussion unfolded after Senator Ray Fonseca asked about the agency’s strategies to lower broadband prices. “Reducing prices within the territory is imperative,” Adams concurred. He outlined viNGN’s ongoing efforts to diversify its revenue sources, which would help subsidize price reductions. These strategies include the introduction of cloud storage solutions, monetizing a new WiFi network supported by ARPA funds, and licensing fiber cables to Internet Service Providers (ISPs), enabling them to operate independently.

Moreover, viNGN is undertaking an extensive review of its pricing strategies. “Our strategic plan for 2024 is aimed at adjusting viNGN’s wholesale prices for our ISP partners,” Adams revealed. To achieve this, the company has enlisted an economist to reevaluate their pricing schedule, aiming to match prices found on the mainland. Yet, Adams admitted, “This task will be extremely challenging.”

Senator Samuel Carrion expressed concern about the timeline and effectiveness of this review. Adams explained that the economist would assess viNGN’s current pricing, industry trends, and conduct a thorough financial due diligence. This process is essential for developing a new pricing model, which he hopes to implement by July 1st. Despite the challenges, the end goal remains clear: to establish a competitive pricing model that benefits all local customers.

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Financial Struggles at viNGN: $36 Million Loan Repayment in Jeopardy, CEO Reveals

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The Virgin Islands Next Generation Network (viNGN) faces severe financial hurdles, with its management expressing doubts about repaying a substantial $36.8 million loan from the Public Finance Authority (PFA). Originally issued as a bond in 2011 to establish the network, the funding was converted into a loan by 2012, a critical detail that viNGN’s CEO, Stephan Adams, claims was poorly communicated to him.

In a recent testimony before the Committee on Budget Appropriations and Finance, Adams highlighted the lack of a fixed interest rate or a clear amortization schedule for the loan, stressing that viNGN’s financial state precludes any repayment without external aid. “Based on our current fiscal standing, viNGN does not have, and does not foresee, the ability to repay the $36.8 million loan without assistance,” Adams stated, indicating a dire financial forecast for the network.

Efforts to secure loan forgiveness have been unsuccessful, with the PFA advising viNGN to pursue federal grants. However, Adams noted that a promising $15 million USDA grant had already been allocated elsewhere, closing off a potential avenue for relief. He expressed frustration over the opacity surrounding the loan’s terms, which has complicated their financial planning.

The lack of legislative support was apparent when Senator Donna Frett-Gregory addressed viNGN’s plea for local help in managing the debt. She emphasized the burden on taxpayers and promised to look into the precise debt figures and repayment methods.

Adding to these challenges, Adams conceded to Senator Dwayne DeGrass that viNGN has consistently operated at a loss since its inception and anticipates reduced revenues this fiscal year. Yet, he remains committed to improving operational efficiencies to mitigate financial pressures, including ongoing efforts to lower pricing to benefit the community. “We’re still cleaning up a mess that’s existed for 10 years,” Adams remarked, indicating ongoing struggles in steering viNGN towards stability.

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New Lawsuit Accuses Matthew McClafferty of Operating Ponzi Scheme

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Matthew McClafferty, the founder of Mac Private Equity Inc., faces fresh legal challenges as a second lawsuit has been lodged against him in the V.I. District Court. This recent filing by a father-daughter pair claims that McClafferty is orchestrating a Ponzi scheme. This adds to his legal woes, which began earlier this month when the Consortium first reported on similar allegations. McClafferty has staunchly denied all accusations, suggesting that the claims are an attempt at extortion by his accusers.

Earlier in the month, a lawsuit was filed against McClafferty and his firm, accusing them of not repaying borrowed funds despite promising high interest rates. McClafferty dismissed these allegations as a mere contractual dispute and labeled the lawsuit a shakedown. He specifically refuted claims labeling his business operations as a Ponzi scheme, arguing that his firm deals in loans rather than investments.

However, the new lawsuit introduced by Glenn and Victoria Blandford, who first encountered McClafferty when Victoria was stationed at the Coast Guard Marine Safety Detachment in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, parallels the earlier allegations. The complaint details that Victoria Blandford engaged in transactions with McClafferty, beginning with a $25,000 investment that promised a 25.5% interest rate and a 15% profit-share, due within 90 days. Before the first payment’s due date, an additional $30,000 was invested with even higher financial stakes.

According to the lawsuit, the payments were never made; instead, McClafferty allegedly engaged in evasive maneuvers including issuing a check to an incorrect address and then stopping payment. The Blandfords also accuse McClafferty of intimidation, claiming he threatened Victoria’s Coast Guard position due to her financial dealings.

The Blandfords’ lawsuit, handled by the same attorney as the earlier case, also challenges the legitimacy of McClafferty’s business structures, suggesting that his companies are mere facades for funneling funds to himself. They seek legal action to pierce these corporate veils and gain reparations for breach of contract and fraudulent misrepresentation.

Amidst these allegations, an amended complaint from the earlier case has introduced a defamation charge against McClafferty, spurred by his public denials and accusations against the initial plaintiff, which were reportedly contradicted by text message evidence.

In his defense, McClafferty dismissed the lawsuits as opportunistic attempts by the attorney to secure large settlements, despite his claims of having offered full payments to every complainant. He disclosed a recent settlement offer made to Ms. Blandford on the day her lawsuit was filed, attempting to resolve the dispute with a payment and a non-disparagement agreement.

Despite not yet being officially served, McClafferty has expressed his intention to contest the allegations vigorously in court and is considering legal action against the plaintiffs’ attorney for professional misconduct.

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