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Charlotte Amalie
Saturday, June 22, 2024
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Delegate Holds Telephone Town Hall Meeting

Despite Delegate to Congress Donna M. Christensen’s attempt to make the first-ever telephone town hall meeting about the economic crisis in the Virgin Islands and Hovensa, she was still thrown random questions about politicians and elections during the two-hour call-in session.

After getting through some initial glitches of poor reception during Christensen’s opening remarks Thursday night, V.I. residents called in to ask questions and to provide suggestions – albeit some wild, about the Hovensa closure and what the territory can do to get through the crisis.

Some people phoned multiple times to ask questions and others dialed in to provide advice, but nearly everyone thanked Christensen for the unique opportunity to have their voices heard.

“We thought it best to use this approach because we could reach more people quickly, providing the opportunity for many of you who are concerned about the future of the Virgin Islands to give your suggestions, ask questions and participate in the process,” Christensen said.

The meeting began at 7 p.m., and each caller was given two minutes to ask questions or provide suggestions, upon which their phones were automatically muted by the operator to listen to the response. Callers were also told they could email the congresswoman during the meeting in case they didn’t want their actual “voices” heard.

Christensen made it clear at the beginning of the meeting that while she will be involved with the local government, she only has the authority to act within the realm of federal initiative.

“I don’t have the authority to enact proposals at a local level,” she said, assuring residents that she “can and will work with the governor, the legislature, the unions, the private sector, the not-for-profit community, and any citizen that has a good idea or suggestion.”

Christensen spent the first 10 minutes telling constituents of what she had already done on the federal level to mitigate the crisis, and she listed several proposals and initiatives that she said will hopefully bring much needed revenue to the territory.

Projects included a National Heritage Area bill that will give St. Croix up to $1 million a year for up to 10 years; a V.I. Improvement Bill (basically a retirement account) to bring $50 million to territory; and plans to introduce legislation to make area hospitals “critical asset hospitals” to bring more funding to the territory.

The questions bounced around a number of issues concerning the territory. Here’s a sample:

– Stephanie Williams asked if the Christensen’s initiatives were reflective of where the Virgin Islands wants to be in the next few decades. The delegate said, ”I really think that one of the best ways to go about this is to take this crisis and use it as an opportunity to come out on the other end better than we are today, and the way to do that is to put together a cadre of people … to really look at all of the possibilities and come up with a plan.”

– William Bohlke was concerned about getting supplied with jet fuel after Hovensa’s closure. Christensen said, “I think this is something we need to sit down and discuss face to face perhaps after I speak with the governor.”

– Patrick Jones, who referred to himself as “Ninja” and who called three times, asked what the congresswoman planned to do about the legislators’ misuse of $6 million. She answered, “We have asked and were told legislature would make a full report. That’s long overdue and I believe once that report is out, there may be reasons for charges to be brought against some of senators depending on what the charges are.”

– Frank Taylor asked if energy was at the top of the list in prioritizing the needs of the territory and asked that the high rates of the Water and Power Authority be addressed. Christensen said, “ I can’t think of something that has been crushing and straddling the business more than the cost of electricity … I am in the process of discussing with Hovensa and WAPA how we can move to natural gas. One of my priorities is to mitigate any problems that arise with having to buy fuel in the immediate time and continue to move towards some more reasonably priced source of energy.”

– Robert White asked about the possibility of Hovensa providing electricity to St. Croix and moving WAPA from its location in Richmond. The delegate said, “One of the first things I thought about was the power generating capacity at Hovensa as part of looking at the long term and looking at the big picture and not just reacting quickly. I think this is an opportunity for us to talk about whether we can move WAPA from where it is into the industrial area. I think it’s something that needs to be explored.”

– Carol Barry wanted clarification about how to recall an elected official and asked if Christensen could provide a clear definition. “We can get a clear definition,” the delegate said, “and will respond to you by email.”

– Cynthia Powell asked about Economic Development Commission programs and whether or not the Treasury Department viewed the EDC as a favorable program. Christensen answered, “We’re still fighting the negative image of the program that started back in 2004. They think that some progress has been made but they’re still not willing to make some of the changes that we have been advocating for to make it more supportive of the businesses, especially the businesses that do a lot of work outside of the territory … There’s still some work that needs to be done on improving the way Treasury treats our EDC companies.”

Throughout the meeting the delegate maintained a hopeful stance that the territory will ultimately benefit from the multitude of changes that will befall St. Croix after the closure of Hovensa.

Christensen said she believed that with federal and private sector help, business and local leadership, and using the using the strength that the Virgin Islands people have always demonstrated, “we can use this to build a better, fairer, stronger Virgin Islands.”

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