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Charlotte Amalie
Saturday, July 2, 2022


"Slanderous and false" is Southern Energy’s reaction to a lawsuit filed against it and the Turnbull administration over the proposed sale of the V.I. Water and Power Authority.
Earlier this week, St. Croix community activist Gail Watson Chiang and her attorney, Lee Rohn, filed suit in Territorial Court claiming that the V.I. government’s negotiations with Southern Energy for the purchase of WAPA violate the territory’s competitive bidding laws. The suit also claims that an exclusivity agreement signed by the two parties is illegal.
Further, the suit alleges that Southern Energy paid a government negotiating team’s expenses for lodging and travel to and from the company’s headquarters in Atlanta.
"It’s slanderous and false," Southern Energy spokesman Chuck Griffin said about the suit. "The biggest thing was we had somehow paid government officials off. Yes, we did bring them to Atlanta and they did stay at the Ritz Carlton. But we sent them an invoice.
"Their time spent here (Atlanta) was mostly in a conference room."
The Ritz Carlton, Griffin said, is a short walk to the company's headquaters buidling in downtown Atlanta.
Southern Energy officials have said the company will offer $100 million in cash up front for WAPA and refinance its $150 million bond debt for 80 percent ownership of the utility. While Griffin said a proposal hasn’t been submitted to Gov. Charles Turnbull, it is "imminent."
Griffin said that because the company is named as a defendant in the suit, it will have to take part in any proceedings. He added, however, that the legal challenge won’t derail the company’s plans to purchase WAPA.
"We’re named as a defendant, so we do have to get involved legally," he said. "A restraining order would obviously affect the progress of the deal. Other than that it’s something we have to work through."
As for the lawsuit’s allegations that the government and Southern Energy entered into a exclusivity agreement, Griffin said that was part of the due diligence process when the company was studying WAPA’s books and operations prior to making an offer.
"We did have an agreement that they (the government) would talk to us alone," Griffin said, adding that the administration said such an agreement was legal. "We had no reason to believe there was any problem with it."
Government House officials couldn’t be reached for comment on the lawsuit Thursday evening, including allegations that two other companies had expressed interest in purchasing a portion of WAPA. Griffin said Southern Company wasn’t in the position to know whether any other offers had been made.
Meanwhile, Griffin said the claims in the lawsuit raise questions about what Chiang’s and Rohn’s motives are.
"There’s very little in here that seems to be factually based," he said. "It leaves one to wonder if their motives are political."

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