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Corroded steam pipes force closure of St. Croix abattoir, replacement pending

Curleen Rogers, Virgin Islands Department of Agriculture abattoir director for St. Croix and St. Thomas, points out corrosion on the steam piping system at the St. Croix abattoir that must be replaced before the facility can reopen.
Curleen Rogers, Virgin Islands Department of Agriculture abattoir director for St. Croix and St. Thomas, points out corrosion on the steam piping system at the St. Croix abattoir that must be replaced before the facility can reopen.

ST. CROIX — The slaughtering of livestock in the territory is suspended until the Virgin Islands Department of Agriculture can repair the steam piping system at the St. Croix abattoir or install a mobile unit on St. Thomas, according to VIDA officials.

The Department of Agriculture covered the transportation costs for animals to be slaughtered on St. Croix because the facility is closed on St. Thomas, but that is no longer an option now that the St. Croix abattoir is closed.

The St. Croix abattoir has been closed since April 10 because a corroded steam piping system needs to be replaced.
The St. Croix abattoir has been closed since April 10 because a corroded steam piping system needs to be replaced.

Corrosion of the steam piping system in the St. Croix abattoir resulted in its closure when the problem was discovered during routine inspection on April 10, Curleen Rogers, VIDA abattoir director for St. Croix and St. Thomas, said.

Efforts to repair the pipes by VIDA staff were not successful, so the department had to close the facility.

“This is a situation where if the pipes fail, if they rupture, we’re exposing our own staff to safety hazards, and that is something we simply cannot compromise on,” Agriculture Commissioner Louis Petersen said.

The steam piping system that needs replaced brings water to 180 degrees so it can be used to sanitize the facility before, during and after the slaughtering process.

“We don’t just use a cleaner and wash it down with regular water,” Rogers said.

VIDA learned about the corroded steam pipes after a leaky pipe was discovered during inspection. When staff attempted to repair the pipe, the insulation covering the pipes was removed to reveal the corrosion.

“As we continued to remove more and more insulation, we realized that the piping was in the same condition all throughout the abattoir,” Petersen said.

VIDA hired a service provider to procure the necessary supplies from out of the territory to complete the repairs, Petersen said. He said the department would be in a better position after the materials arrive on island to determine how long the abattoir will remain closed, but noted the job is expected to take one month to complete after work begins.

Replacement of the corroded steam pipes isn’t the only work being done at the St. Croix abattoir either.

Curleen Rogers, Virgin Islands Department of Agriculture abattoir director for St. Croix and St. Thomas, discusses the recent installation of a new rumping station, left.
Curleen Rogers, Virgin Islands Department of Agriculture abattoir director for St. Croix and St. Thomas, discusses the recent installation of a new rumping station, left.

“We are moving as expeditiously as we possibly can and being as proactive as we possibly can to ensure that when the abattoir is reopened, we don’t have any closures pending,” Petersen said.

The Department of Agriculture not only has plans to repair a troubled boiler that has repeatedly broken down throughout the years, but it is also in the process of purchasing a new boiler to serve as a back up, Petersen said. He said a new rumping station has been installed, and repairs are being made to the hoist.

“We are speaking about a 45-year-old facility that we are right now doing our best to renovate and repair to get back fully into function,” he said.

Rogers reiterated that the department has been making minor repairs at the St. Croix abattoir.

“Good things are happening,” she said. “We’re looking at preventative measures now. We can’t foresee everything, but we will definitely do our best to prevent closures.”

As VIDA makes progress toward reopening the St. Croix abattoir, the facility on St. Thomas remains closed.

The Department of Agriculture has plans to demolish the St. Thomas abattoir and immediately purchase a mobile unit that will be installed at the same site, Petersen said. He said VIDA will purchase the mobile abattoir when it receives funding approval from the Office of Management and Budget.

“The intention has been to purchase the mobile abattoir while working toward constructing a brand-new facility,” the commissioner said. “It should be noted, though, that the mobile unit can serve very well as a permanent station.”

Now that there aren’t any abattoir services available in the territory, Petersen noted the inconvenience for livestock farmers. He urged them to maintain their animals as best they can while VIDA works as quickly as possible to fully restore abattoir services.

Curleen Rogers, Virgin Islands Department of Agriculture abattoir director for St. Croix and St. Thomas, places her hand on a corroded steam pipe at the St. Croix abattoir that was discovered during routine inspection on April 10, forcing the closure of the facility until the entire piping system can be replaced.
Curleen Rogers, Virgin Islands Department of Agriculture abattoir director for St. Croix and St. Thomas, places her hand on a corroded steam pipe at the St. Croix abattoir that was discovered during routine inspection on April 10, forcing the closure of the facility until the entire piping system can be replaced.

“That’s a very difficult situation for all of us involved, the department, the farmers and their customers,” Petersen said. “It is very difficult for us. We cannot direct, suggest what farmers should do. We anticipate what could very well happen, but that is not something that we can suggest. All that we can ask of farmers is to be patient with us. All that we can do is to be as expeditious as possible, move as quickly as possible, but it is very difficult for us to share this with farmers.”

Tom Eader is the Chief Reporter for WTJX. Originally from South Bend, Indiana, Eader received his bachelor's degree in journalism from Ball State University, where he wrote for his college newspaper. He moved to St. Croix in 2003, after landing a job as a reporter for the St. Croix Avis. Eader worked at the Avis for 20 years, as both a reporter and photographer, and served as Bureau Chief from 2013 until their closure at the beginning of 2024. Eader is an award-winning journalist, known for his thorough and detailed reporting on multiple topics important to the Virgin Islands community. Joining the WTJX team in January of 2024, Eader brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to the newsroom. Email: teader@wtjx.org | Phone: 340-227-4463
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