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2017-01-20 17:42:32
Local news — St. Croix
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Senate Rejects Hovensa Deal

Sen. Alicia 'Chucky' Hansen said Hovensa "didn't give a damn how they destroyed the United States Virgin Islands" at a heated Senate meeting Wednesday.

The Virgin Islands Senate sent the territory back to square one Wednesday, rejecting a proposed agreement with Hovensa that Gov. John deJongh Jr. said opened the door to sell the shuttered St. Croix refinery and to its possible reopening.

Eleven of the 14 senators in the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall on St. Thomas voted against ratifying the amendment to the Third Concession Agreement, which governs the relations between the government and Hovensa.

Voting no were Sens. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen, Terrence “Positive” Nelson, Nereida "Nellie" Rivera-O'Reilly, Kenneth Gittens, Clifford Graham, Tregenza Roach, Myron Jackson, Diane Capehart, Shawn-Michael Malone, Janet Millin Young and Clarence Payne III.

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Only Sens. Donald Cole, Judi Buckley and Sammuel Sanes voted yes on the proposal. Sen. Craig Barshinger was off island.

In a statement from Government House, deJongh expressed disappointment and said he will now take action to enforce the terms of the existing Concession Agreement.

Wednesday's vote came at the end of a daylong session in which tempers sometimes flared, where temperatures rose while the air conditioning was being repaired, while protesters stood outside drumming and chanting – and one senator sang. Honestly.

Nelson, who had used almost all his time during earlier discussions on other issues to lambast the Hovensa agreement, opened the debate on the amendment by likening the relationship with the oil company to the Gloria Gaynor song, "I Will Survive."

"Once I was alone, I was petrified," Nelson crooned. “Kept thinkin' I could never live without you by my side,” he continued.

But like the jilted woman in the song, Nelson said, the Virgin Islands are strong enough to tell Hovensa "Walk out that door."

Nelson ran through a litany of demands the company has made over the years and the environmental and health problems he laid at Hovensa's door, and he listed how much the territory has given. Then the company shut down with virtually no warning, Nelson said. The agreement is like a former husband who wants to negotiate the prenuptial after the marriage already ended.

"You did us wrong when we treated you right," he said, urging his fellow senators to say, "not just no, but hell no!"

Sen. Nereida 'Nellie' Rivera-O'Reilly said the government has "to stand up and really show some muscularity" to corporations like Hovensa.

O'Reilly said the corporation believes it will get what it wants because it always has.

"The simple fact is that we are facing a corporation that believes it can get away with what it wants because it has always gotten away with it. We have to stand up and really show some muscularity," she said.

The U.S. Virgin Islands, in general, and St. Croix specifically need to diversify their economies and not rely on a single large employer, O'Reilly said. The Hovensa property, once cleaned up, could be used for a variety of manufacturing uses, she said, even suggesting contacting the Department of Defense to see if it would like to build a Navy base.

Roach said the amendment wasn't a good deal, and said he wasn't moved by the prospect of long, expensive litigation.

"I am not afraid," he said. "The courts exists for us to avail ourselves if our rights are violated ... St. Croix needs jobs and it needs opportunity and we all need hope. But our hope need not be based on a fear of asserting our rights."

Hansen urged her colleagues not to forget 400 years of history.

"We ought to live as our ancestors did ... and not to humble ourselves towards money. We learned from our ancestors. We can survive without being pushed out of our own homes."

During a long afternoon and evening, Hansen provided the most heat.

"When they left they didn't give a damn how they destroyed the United States Virgin Islands. They didn't give a damn that our men and women have lost their homes because they no longer could make payments. They didn't give a damn," she said.

Senate President Malone picked through what he called flaws in the agreement, saying deJongh was overly optimistic in thinking someone could refurbish and restart the refinery for "a reasonable cost," saying he assumed it would require "major capital investments to open the shuttered and maintenance-challenged refinery."

Malone called the governor naive for not making sure the deferred payments in lieu of taxes would be guaranteed by Hess instead of left vulnerable if Hovensa filed for bankruptcy.

Buckley elicited "chupps" from the audience when she said that, despite her misgiving, she was going to vote in favor of the amendment.

"I am not afraid to be a lone voice and I don't succumb to threats," she said. “I don't operate by fear, but by faith and reality.”

The reality, she said, is that the local economy isn't getting better or even holding stable – the bad news keeps coming and nothing has changed. She pointed to a report from the Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs that St. Croix has lost almost 5,000 businesses since the announcement that Hovensa would cease operating, and that the government is finding it harder and harder to make ends meet, with unfunded liability for the retirement system, huge debts by the hospital, and prices and energy costs rising. She likened the agreement to a divorce settlement.

"Neither party walks out completely happy, but we don't risk going to court with expensive attorneys and run the risk of a judge settling it. Hovensa needs to sell and leave the territory, as they now want to do, but they need this agreement signed by us," she said.

By the time it was his turn to speak, Sanes said the writing was already on the wall, it was already clear the measure would fail. He said he had been receiving text messages advising him to let it go, "to go with the flow." But he said that wasn't his way.

"I'm doing what my conscience tells me to do," he said, speaking about the people he sees every day on St. Croix with no jobs and no hope.

When Hovensa closed, he said, the skilled laborers, engineers and executives packed up and moved on to other oil jobs around the world.

"But thousands had to stay behind, hoping that something would happen ... What has happened? Not a thing ... Who's to blame? All of us are to blame,” Sanes said, later adding, “We can talk a good talk, but every two weeks we get a nice paycheck and our kids get benefits. What about the thousands who get nothing?"

Sanes challenged his colleagues, who were poised to defeat the measure, to come up with an up with an alternative.

"My question is, you guys got a plan B? I expect to hear that Plan B coming up soon," he said, promising, "If it's feasible, I'll work for it. But I really would like to hear what Plan B is. I hope it's not a lot of talk."

The Senate presented a "plan B" late in the meeting. After taking the vote, while some senators had already left, a resolution was rushed through urging Hovensa to find a buyer and sell the facility to someone who would operate it as a refinery, suggesting a series of conditions to the sale that the company has already rejected.

In his Government House statement, the governor expressed "great disappointment" in the vote.

DeJongh said he believed the Fourth Amendment Agreement was the best way to bridge the parties’ differences and was vastly superior to a lengthy and costly legal dispute he says threaten to delay the restart of the refinery and the economic recovery of St. Croix. Now that the Legislature has spoken, it appears that the dispute cannot be avoided, deJongh said.

At the same time, he also thanked the many members of the community who participated in the legislative process and who vocally supported the agreement.

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This is a very poor article. I would expect this type of reporting from the Daily News. I listened in on the hearing and many things of substance were said by our elected officials as to why they should vote this down.
This article barely touches on the intelligent reasoning
displayed by several senators to achieve their decision.

This is gonna be good, the useless borrowing just to make payroll VI government along with the we get our money regardless senators vs my pocket are deeper than yours owners of Hovensa!'s funny that we elect these people who continue to just put on a show year after year. The majority votes no but they don't have anything else to offer as usual. I agree where is your Plan B, I forgot you didn't have one when the refinery closed and you surely don't have one now. But the best show comes from Senator O'reilly who says that maybe the Department of Defense would want it, wow do you even watch the news! The US government has been closing bases not buying old refineries but I shouldn't expect anything more from the same person that came on the radio after the announcement and said she would help people as much as she could even if that meant babysitting for them while they went out looking for work. Priceless! This is what you were elected for.....and to Mr. Positive lets hope your signing will bring some prosperity to St. Croix cause nothing else you have done has!

Datrod106 you fail to understand the facts. The most important is that if the plant is worth 300 million and needs 400-700 million in upgrades then the plant has a negative value. It will never sell! The agreement gave Hovensa no incentive to sell or employ more people. It was full of false hopes.

Marcus, I think your the one that doesn't understand the facts. I know better than most people that the refinery has very limited sale potential cause I've been commenting on it for quite sometime especially given the fact that I am qualified to teach refinery economics both from being employed there for almost 20 years and have multiple degrees on that subject. My issue is that the VI Government has no real plan to better the economy, and until the people of the VI especially those on STX realize that they are going to be stuck with another piece of strap metal on the South shore there is no hope!

Hard to believe anything of substance was said in the hearings by those opposing the deal. When you have senators comparing the situation to a Gloira Gaynor song or a matrimonial relationship and another saying not to humble ourselves towards money, I have to question the intelligence and profesionalism of those involved in the decision making process. And yet another senator criticizes the Governor for not making sure the deferred payment in lieu of taxes would be guaranteed by Hess. Do they not see the writing is on the wall. All Hovensa has to do is declare bankruptcy now and St. Croix is left with nothing. Perhaps what Hovensa did was wrong but that is life in big business. Big business operates on facts and money. Senators fighting Hovensa with idealism based on personal/emotional opinions and not opinions of the people they represent is a far more serious crime.

What a bunch of MORONS!
Hard to believe that we are stuck with these men and women representing us. Hope that after we are left with a crumbling, decayed facility that no-one will want, after decades of costly litigation over this fiasco and St. Croix's economy is completely non-existant, they will come forward and say, "Gee, we made a big mistake!" Doubt it!

Alana, you are right.... no one wants the refinery now or later....not even Hovensa, so lets get rid of it!!!!

Funny, when Britney Spears stood up and told America that she supports President Bush Jr. and his Admin. 100% with 100% of their decisions, people applauded her patriotism. Bush and his wars paired with little to no Fed regulation of our banking system destroyed our economy and we all know what happened thereafter. I support our legislative process and I trust Hansen and O'Reilly like Britney trusted Bush. Surely, I trust the decisions of our native VI patriots far more than I trust the stock price watchers of John Hess and his crew! They shut the refinery down claiming losses but Duff & Phelps confirmed this to be a lie. The refinery is profitable but not to the level that was apparently worth going after. The gravy was too thin. Haven't you ever wondered why, Hovensa, has yet to issue a statement refuting the Duff & Phelps report? They met face to face and never denied any part or parcel of the report.

What people are failing to understand is that oil is not our future. Do you want it to be? I don't. We are better than that. We have seen and lived the results of HOVENSA. We have seen the results of oil on the planet. Someone told me that has lived on island for a very long time that the island had little to no crime before HOVENSA. Big money brings big problems. Haven't you guys noticed what the "American Dream" has done to the US? The American Dream is nothing but a life of debt. We need to wake up to this realization. This island has the capability to provide food in abundance for all of us. With HOVENSA gone, we now have access to cleaner air. We have clean rainwater for drinking. What more do you need? We have every resource we need here. If everyone on island just ate locally grown foods instead of exported foods we could grow our economy. Instead of making a few grocery store owners very wealthy, we could all prosper. We need to get out of the old way of thinking, and bring in the new earth we all desire to live on. Once we can conceive of this new way of living, we can make it a reality. Health trumps everything, because without it, we are nothing.

It's funny how all of a sudden everybody wants to talk about farming eating fresh. I'm young only 27 i worked at Hovensa. Last time I checked Wapa wasn't accepting tomatoes or corn as a form of payment. The bank didn't accept coconuts for my mortgage. Everybody hated Hovensa saying they polluting our air our water our land. Maybe its all true we did have some unnessecary and unwanted releases to the atmosphere. I agree money brings problems but its also needed to survive. To agree with the senators is foolish. They got their money they have their houses. You see them hurting at all? They don't give a rats ass about the V.I. Thats why i stopped voting there all a bunch of crooks that trying to make their money. So called Posistive Nelson is a Joke and Chucky full of hot air. Now it goes to years of dispute in court and for what? what good will it bring. The Senate believes they have something to bargain with. It's all just talk. Hovensa did a lot for the V.I. and all they got in return was torment. Everyone in the Senate that voted no should just kill everyone in the VI then kill themselves because they doing it anyway in a slow drawn out process. If you think these people care then your just as dumb as they are. I love my St. Croix its my home but stupidity is very strong here. Nelson is right to sing that song he will survive but what about the rest of us?

Hess Man.. Thanks for saying it like it is...

Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, "If physical death is the price that some must pay to free our children from a permanent psychological death, then nothing shall be more redemptive." People had to make unpopular decisions sometime down the line so that many of us can enjoy the fruits of their labor and sacrifice. Today, we are being asked to sell ourselves short (for the money) or take a stand against a bill that guarantees little to nothing for the VI people. Yes, we can go along to get along but when will we make our stand against corporate greed and their 'take it or suffer warnings?' When we have enough money to afford it? Perhaps King, Abernathy, Shuttlesworth, and Evers should have waited until they were in a more comfortable personal position before they decided to act (then) for our benefit (today). I personally would like to see every Virgin Islander back to work and making a super wage but if we sell our collective principle for peanuts so that some of us can pay our car note and house note, how will the next corporation see us, approach us, and treat us?

"Hansen urged her colleagues not to forget 400 years of history.
'We ought to live as our ancestors did ... and not to humble ourselves towards money. We learned from our ancestors. We can survive without being pushed out of our own homes.'"

This from a woman who's been at the government trough her entire life!

It is embarrassing to be a Virgin Islander and to continue to listen to the tripe and ignorance that comes
out of these Senators mouths, especially "Chucky" and "Negative" Nelson. Seriously, what are they smoking at the legislature! These are our representatives?
God Help us!