Many Virgin Islanders want jobs, want to keep their businesses open, want to remain in St. Croix and want the opportunity to come home!
Today I work in Florida, not by choice, but by necessity. When Hovensa made cutbacks in 2011 I lost my job. I have had to work on the road since then, leaving my family, my home and the island I love behind.
This is not a story about me, however, this is a story about the island of St. Croix, its many residents and its failing economy. It’s a story about the small business owner who had to downsize when Hovensa shut down in 2012. It’s a story of how painful it was for that business owner to tell valued employees she could no longer afford to pay them and had to let them go.
It’s a story about a former refinery worker who is separated from her family and working in the states to support her family while her child finishes school here in St. Croix. It’s the story of another refinery worker who had just finished building his house when Hovensa made the announcement it was closing and hundreds of people would lose their jobs. He and his family have had to relocate and his house sits empty in St. Croix.
It’s a story of several children who grew up here and went off to college choosing to major in areas such as engineering in the hopes that they would be able to return home and work. What new job possibilities have we created for them?
It’s the story of small business owners who have shared that they are struggling and cannot continue to wait to see what happens with the economy.
I have just shared the story of only a handful of people…There are far too many stories to tell of people struggling to survive in St. Croix. Nearly 2,000 people worked at the refinery (employees and contractors) before the refinery shut down in 2012. Refinery employees who didn’t lose their jobs in 2012 will lose their jobs on March 1, 2015. How many small businesses closed or had to downsize since 2012? How many workers employed by small businesses on St. Croix lost their job as a result of the “trickle-down” effect? How does the loss of jobs in the private sector affect Government jobs? In June 2012, the VIG employed over 7,100 people in the Territory and in June 2014 the VIG employed less than 6,600. How many more Government employees will lose their jobs if the economy continues to decline?
The story continues with the deterioration of St. Croix, the island we all love. Closed businesses and empty storefronts across the island. Empty Christiansted storefronts that the community filled with posters in an attempt to make it look less desolate. Streets that Waste Management Authority can no longer afford to clean. Streets filled with potholes that create dangerous driving conditions and costly repairs for our vehicles and tires.
With the loss of revenue from Hovensa and other businesses, how does the Government pay for our roads, our schools, hospitals, etc.? Recently the Government wanted to add a surcharge to our WAPA bills to pay for street lights. Thankfully that was reversed. What other bills are our Government struggling to pay? If revenue from private businesses does not increase, how much longer until the Government presents another proposal for the Territory’s residents to pay more?
This week we, residents of the Territory, have an opportunity to reverse this entire situation. We can give the refinery the opportunity to restart, begin to rebuild the USVI economy, and return people to good paying jobs on St. Croix. For this to happen, the VI Senate must approve the operating agreement allowing for the sale of Hovensa to Atlantic Basin Refining (ABR) on December 19th. If the Senate fails to act, the refinery will stop operating as an oil storage facility as it does today, and even more Virgin Islanders will lose their jobs, even more small businesses will struggle to stay open, and the VIG will have less revenue to pay for the infrastructure on the islands and less revenue for Government jobs.
Over eleven hundred people have already joined me in signing the petition to Save Hovensa at www.hovensasale.com. If you are in favor of jobs and an improved economy on St. Croix, please sign the petition.
The agreement between ABR and the USVI government will expand tax revenues. ABR will have to pay the government more than $1.5 billion over the life of the agreement, as well as an immediate $40 million security payment. These payments could be used to fix our roads, improve schools, improve the hospital and help pay the Territory’s 6,500 Government employees.
The sale of Hovensa to ABR is our best chance to restart the refinery. ABR is the only company that submitted a timely proposal to buy and restart the refinery. Allowing the sale to move forward means Virgin Islanders throughout the Territory can share and experience the economic benefits of an operating refinery.
What happens if this sale to ABR does not go through? What happens to the more than 200 employees and contractors that currently work at Hovensa? What happens to the approximately 150 peak employees who were laid-off in October and are hoping for the opportunity to work at the facility again? What will happen to all of the local businesses that currently have contracts with Hovensa? What will happen to Government jobs that are in part supported by the revenue Hovensa brings to the Territory?
I don’t want to take a chance on what will happen if the Senate does not approve the operating agreement on Dec 19th. Hovensa has already said if this sale does not go through their financial situation will necessitate their shut down. Do we want to take a chance on the VI Government spending lots of money – that we don’t have – on any costly and lengthy legal battles with no guarantee on the outcome? Do we want to take the chance that there would be an opportunity for anyone else to come in and buy the facility? Do we want to take a chance on another company who was also formed solely for the purchase of the refinery, has no assets, and whose parent company is an environmental remediation company with no experience in refining? I want to take the chance on ABR – a company who, in addition to having a founding partner with environmental remediation experience, also has founding partners with experience in international energy trading, investment banking, refinery operations and acquisitions and terminal development. How about you?
I’m inviting you to tell our Senators you support the Hovensa sale by signing the petition to Save Hovensa at www.hovensasale.com. The Territory needs more money circulating in the local economy. The USVI government needs revenue. We Islanders need more jobs. Join me in calling on the Legislature to approve the Hovensa sale and operating agreement.
Save Hovensa! Save St. Croix!
Barry Guilbeau, St. Croix/Florida
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