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U.S. Virgin Islands Prioritized for Key Department of Interior Funds in 2024



The Office of Insular Affairs (OIA) within the U.S. Department of the Interior has officially opened the submission period for Fiscal Year 2024 funding applications, placing a special emphasis on projects from the U.S. Virgin Islands and other territories aimed at combating climate change and enhancing energy and natural resource management.

This effort is a segment of a larger fiscal initiative that encompasses programs such as the Technical Assistance Program (TAP) and extends to various conservation and assistance grants.

The funding opportunities on offer include programs like the Technical Assistance (TAP), Maintenance Assistance (MAP), Coral Reef and Natural Resources (CRNR), and measures for Brown Tree Snake (BTS) control. The submission window for proposals closes on March 15, 2024. However, Assistant Secretary for Insular and International Affairs Carmen G. Cantor recommends that applicants begin the submission process at their earliest convenience.

Assistant Secretary Cantor remarked, “Our goal is to fund a diverse range of meritorious projects, and we urge applicants to submit early for the 2024 fiscal year. Proposals that focus on addressing critical areas such as climate change, energy sustainability, and natural resource protection are particularly encouraged and will receive priority review.”

These funding programs are accessible to U.S. territories, including American Samoa, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, as well as to freely associated states like the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Republic of Palau.

Qualified applicants include governmental entities of the insular areas, educational bodies, and non-profit organizations, provided that their proposed projects offer direct benefits to the territories and states in accordance with federal guidelines.

Prospective applicants are directed to use CFDA number 15.875 for further information and application procedures on the website. Although the formal deadline is in March 2024, the OIA will begin evaluating submissions post the receipt of the full fiscal year appropriations. Proposals that address urgent public safety concerns or emergencies may receive expedited consideration.

Decisions on funding allocations are anticipated to be finalized by September 2024. The OIA’s official website offers comprehensive details regarding these financial grants and additional guidance for applicants.

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Diesel Spill at St. Thomas Power Plant Under Control, No Harm to Waterways Detected



The diesel spill incident at the Randolph Harley Power Plant in St. Thomas, which came to light on October 25, is under expert management by the U.S. Coast Guard. The Coast Guard is overseeing the comprehensive response to the spill, ensuring environmental safety and containment.

As part of the response, approximately 26,000 gallons of diesel mixed with water has been recovered from the plant’s secondary containment facility and the surrounding land. This proactive measure was taken following the spill from tank number 11 at the Randolph Harley Power Plant, operated by the Water and Power Authority.

The Coast Guard, in their latest update dated November 1, indicated that the tank in question has been emptied, leaving behind only sludge and residual materials. The current phase of the response involves meticulous cleaning of the tank and removal of all residual substances.

Officials have confirmed the complete removal of diesel from the secondary containment area. The focus now shifts to decontamination efforts in this zone and identifying the source of the leakage that caused diesel to escape the containment area.

Environmental protection measures are in full swing. Teams have constructed trenches to guide the diesel towards collection points for efficient recovery. Additionally, absorbent materials have been deployed to prevent further dispersion of the spill. Plans are underway for the safe disposal of the contaminated soil, as per the Coast Guard’s statements.

While there have been no reported negative impacts on nearby waterways, the Coast Guard remains vigilant. They anticipate the arrival of more personnel from the Coast Guard Atlantic Strike Team to assist in evaluating and mitigating any potential waterway impacts.

Petty Officer 1st Class Paul Sanders, serving as the federal on-scene coordinator representative, acknowledged challenges like rain and terrain affecting the response. He praised the substantial progress made and commended the Water and Power Authority’s cooperative efforts in swiftly addressing the spill, with a shared commitment to community health and environmental conservation.

The incident was first reported to Coast Guard personnel in St. Thomas in late October. Following a report to the National Response Center, the Coast Guard Sector San Juan initiated further actions, including a site visit that confirmed the extent of the spill, thus setting the stage for ongoing investigations and response efforts.

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EPA Uncovers More LPG at St. Croix Refinery, Expanding Investigations



In a recent development, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has reported the discovery of additional Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG) at the St. Croix refinery. This finding emerged following the EPA’s enhanced information gathering and a subsequent inspection at the site.

The EPA’s vigilant monitoring of the St. Croix refinery has led to a better understanding of the LPG quantities present, exceeding initial estimates. The agency is in the process of completing an in-depth inspection report to thoroughly comprehend the situation. This assessment is crucial for determining appropriate measures to manage the newly discovered LPG.

The initial phase of LPG extraction from the refinery’s units was temporarily halted on June 10 due to a lack of shipping containers. This process resumed upon the arrival of more containers, concluding on July 21, 2023, with a total of approximately 26,700 gallons of LPG being recovered. The final shipment of LPG departed the island on August 10, 2023.

Under EPA supervision, Port Hamilton Refinery and Transportation (PHRT) effectively removed several chemicals, including anhydrous ammonia, amines, and LPG, complying with EPA’s directives. Most of these substances have been transported off-island. However, a container partially filled with LPG, marked for incineration, awaits the availability of an incineration facility. Additionally, discussions are ongoing between EPA and PHRT regarding the disposal of roughly 175,000 gallons of amine water rinsate and 6,750 gallons of ammonia water rinsate still at the refinery.

The refinery, under EPA guidance, successfully extracted over 327,000 gallons of rich amine liquid from its equipment. This process resulted in 175,000 gallons of amine rinsate, now stored in tanks pending final disposal decisions. Regarding ammonia, 8,400 gallons were transported off-island on May 14, while plans for the remaining 6,750 gallons of ammonia rinse water are being formulated.

LPG, used as a fuel gas, consists of combustible hydrocarbon gases and is usually odorless in its untreated state, as is the case here. The refinery also employed an amine system to extract harmful gases from its operations. Anhydrous ammonia, a more potent variant than household ammonia, was used as a gasoline additive at the facility.

The EPA has committed to maintaining its oversight role and continuing discussions with PHRT to ensure the safe and environmentally responsible disposition of all remaining chemicals at the St. Croix refinery. The agency’s focus is on minimizing any potential hazards and safeguarding environmental health.

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Emerging Threat to Caribbean Coral Reefs: The Rise of Algal Crusts



The health of the world’s coral reefs, long jeopardized by the impacts of warming oceans and bleaching events, is now confronting an additional, less-known danger. Recent research highlights a new environmental challenge in the form of peyssonnelid algal crusts (PACs), which pose a significant threat to these vital marine ecosystems.

A recent study in “Cell,” a leading biological journal, brings to light the alarming spread of PACs, particularly in the Caribbean region. Researchers Peter Edmunds, Thom Schils, and Bryan Wilson have provided an in-depth analysis of these algal crusts, particularly in the shallow waters off St. John, USVI. Their study, based on data up to 2019, indicates that nearly two-thirds of the seabed in this region is covered with PACs.

The deceptive simplicity of PACs has allowed them to avoid detection and proper classification for years. These crusts are often mistaken for other seaweed types due to their appearance, leading to misclassification and underestimation of their prevalence.

The research team points out that while PACs are naturally occurring in tropical reefs, their recent proliferation is causing ecological imbalances. They are capable of overgrowing live coral and monopolizing spaces cleared by natural disturbances, such as hurricanes. This dominance prevents the settlement of coral larvae, hindering the growth and regeneration of coral reefs.

Furthermore, PACs seem to be resilient to ocean acidification, an advantage that further threatens coral polyps. Although they provide sustenance for a certain type of sea urchin, the decline of Diadema antillarum populations in Caribbean waters has led to unchecked PAC expansion.

The study warns of a growing crisis, as PACs capitalize on the ecological vulnerabilities created by decades of reef degradation. The researchers stress the need for immediate and comprehensive studies on PACs, starting with improved methods for accurate identification. The survival of coral reefs, both in the Caribbean and globally, might very well depend on these efforts.

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