Sentiment was split Wednesday among the 50 or so St. Croix residents who testified during the second day of the Senates public hearings on the administrations proposal to sell 80 percent of the V.I. Water and Power Authority to Southern Energy.
Over about eight hours, more than half of the individuals used their allotted five minutes to condemn the sale outright or say it should be put out to bid. About the same number of people voiced their opinions on the deal the day before on St. Thomas, with a similar split in sentiment.
Among those advocating the sale were a half-dozen university students who said it would foster jobs that would allow them and other students to remain in the territory.
But the resounding message senators heard was "no."
Gail Watson-Chiang, who has a lawsuit pending against the sale and was one of about six senatorial hopefuls who spoke, said that instead of selling WAPA, its management team should be replaced.
"Fix it, dont sell it," she said. "Its irresponsible to sell your power base."
Gerald Hodge, a WAPA engineer on St. Thomas, said the utilitys workers have been studying the feasibility of an employee buyout as an alternative to selling to Southern Energy.
"We know we can accomplish this same thing," said Hodge. "We went the extra mile to come up with an alternative . . . that will keep WAPA locally owned."
Supporting the employee buyout option were Michael Shay and Andrew Torgove. Shay, a partner in a mainland consulting firm, and Torgove, a New York attorney, both have experience in helping arrange financing for employees to become owners of their companies. Neither man, however, has been retained to help assemble a proposal.
"It is important we have viable alternatives, whether it be a cooperative, which we believe in, or employee stock options," Shay said, adding that it is "immensely possible" for the employees of WAPA to do a buyout.
Clifford Emmanuel echoed a refrain heard throughout the day by those opposed to the deal when he said, "If management is not working for you, fire them, send them home." He bemoaned the fact that the Virgin Islands Telephone Corp., which was once government-owned, is now in private hands.
"Right now (Vitelco) is the goose thats laying the golden egg," he said. "Now we are trying to sell the cow."
Those in favor of the sale cited numerous reasons why WAPA should be controlled by Southern Energy, including economic development and a reliable source of power.
Arnold Golden, whose daughter, Sen. Anne Golden is also a proponent of the deal, said that even if WAPA employees could arrange a cooperative or employee buyout, they couldnt match Southern Energys pledge of a $1 million economic development fund.
"It is near miraculous that the government and WAPA have been able to continue to now" considering the $20 million owed the utility by the government, Golden said. "Alternatives may very well work during normal times, but these arent normal times."
Chuck Hensley, president of the St. Croix Chamber of Commerce, elicited a chorus of boo's when he criticized the government and WAPA for "mismanagement and corruption." He said St. Croix had already "run off" investors such as Beal Aerospace and a host of others.
"Im for privatizing many of the functions of government," he said.
Meanwhile, James Peters, a Southern Energy spokesman, said the company is standing by its Friday deadline for a Senate decision on the deal. He said the vote has already been postponed and the company can no longer delay a purchase because of fluctuating interest rates.
But Hubert Turnbull, president of the WAPA Employees Association, told senators not to be pressured by Southern's deadline.
"If you say no on Friday they will still be around," Turnbull said. "Dont believe what they tell you."
Public hearings continue at 10 a.m. Thursday on St. John.