On November 4, 2013, the 30th Legislature made a decision that will certainly alter the destiny of the U. S. Virgin Islands. This exciting, historic event was the final approval of a compromise between the VI Government and HOVENSA. Just three days later, the deal known as the Fourth Amendment Agreement was signed into law by Governor John P. de Jongh, Jr. Amen!
Indeed, the ratification of the "Hovensa deal" was a monumental effort. It took several months to negotiate and draft a document that was initially rejected by the majority of senators on August 7. Senators asked for clarity of the language which was granted in a form of a Letter of Clarification that was attached to the original document. Besides addressing the numerous concerns of senators, the Letter of Clarification included a bonus for the people of the U. S Virgin Islands. Thanks to the persistence of Sen. Alicia Hansen, Gov. de Jongh was able to successfully get HOVENSA to commit to expeditiously returning 5 million dollars plus interest to the VI treasury.
The following senators made history by approving one of the most controversial contracts between our government and a private corporation: Sen. Buckley, Sen. Cole, Sen. Graham, Sen. Hansen, Sen. Malone, Sen. O’Reilly, Sen. Payne and Sen. Sanes. They are now being fittingly referred to as the "Magnificent Eight." In the spirit of optimism complimented with wits, all eight delivered a passionate but brilliant justification for their support of the Fourth Amendment Agreement.
Members of the Magnificent Eight opted to listen to the facts gathered since HOVENSA’s announcement in January of 2012 that it was shutting down its oil refinery on St. Croix. Despite the economic crisis created by the closure, only 8 senators concluded it was in our best interest to seal a deal that promises to facilitate a sale of the now defunct refinery. Incredible!
Did it not enter the minds of the seven opposing senators that the facility depreciates as time elapses, poses greater risk to our environment and health if a stalemate persists, and increases the probability of HOVENSA declaring bankruptcy? Emotionalism must have driven them to twice reject the deal. In their crystal balls, the citizens of St. Croix are destined to a prolonged life of abject poverty not prosperity. The "Seven Wizards" apparently do not envision a bono fide sale of the Hovensa oil refinery, restart of operation by new owners, stimulation of other business activities, generation of desperately needed revenues for the government or creation of job opportunities. Amazingly, one wizard profoundly stated during a previous hearing on the matter that "there is no hope in fear" yet none of the seven wizards is able to see any light at the end of the tunnel. Their contribution thus far has been a prediction of doom and gloom.
Benjamin Franklin coined this phrase: "Nothing is certain except death and taxes." Obviously, no persons can escape from these two dreaded entities. Fear of the unknown is not easily avoided. Therefore, what makes the Seven Wizards so certain that suing the pants off Hovensa oil refinery is the salvation from our economic woes? Some wizards allege that the Third Extension Agreement has been breached and in order to exact revenge against the owners of the refinery, it is necessary to file a lawsuit. Really? Is it prudent to create another debt for our people by expending public funds on litigation?
Did the Seven Wizards ever explain how a breach occurred or conduct a cost analysis of a protracted court battle between our government and Hovensa? Is there a timeline in the forecast of this foolish venture of litigation? Undoubtedly, the debate will continue about whether it was the Magnificent Eight or the Seven Wizards that sought to secure our economic future. Was it the right thing to ensure that there were two small winners rather than one big loser in the battle between HOVENSA and the people of the USVI?
What if Hovensa oil refinery is sold before the end of 2014? What if the government gets 50 million dollars from the sale before 2015? What if a new company hires hundreds of unemployed Virgin Islanders and restores hope to our community? In other words, the possibilities of what could happen as a result of the ratification of the Fourth Amendment Agreement are endless.
Thanks to the Almighty for blessing us with the Magnificent Eight! The senators that make up the group demonstrated courage and were not dissuaded by the cries of despair from their colleagues. Perhaps, they were inspired by these words of wisdom from Martin Luther King, Jr.: "A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus." Whether they got divine guidance or not, I am grateful that reason rather than emotion caused them to vote affirmatively.
In closing, let’s remain positive about our future and reflect on the choice made by the Magnificent Eight. Be reminded of why they accepted the deal by this expression: "Wisdom prevailed, Ignorance failed!"
Verdel L. Petersen, St. Croix