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Charlotte Amalie
Friday, July 1, 2022
HomeNewsArchives3RD WAPA HEARING: PROS, CONS, OTHER CONCERNS

3RD WAPA HEARING: PROS, CONS, OTHER CONCERNS

About 20 people expressed their varying views on St. John Thursday to the Senate Committee of the Whole as it wrapped up three days of public hearings on the proposed sale of 80 percent of the Water and Power Authority to Southern Energy Inc.
The full Senate is scheduled to convene at 10 a.m. Friday and vote the deal up or down after taking testimony from representatives of the Turnbull administration, which has submitted the proposal to the 23rd Legislature for approval, and from Southern Energy officials.
Some of those who spoke Thursday had alreadly voiced their views at one, if not both, of the previous hearings, Tuesday on St. Thomas and Wednesday on St. Croix. But many witnesses were St. John residents taking the opportunity to state their opinions for the first time.
Retired investment banker Edward Bermingham said that having WAPA become part of a larger organization would work to the benefit of the consumers, the government and, especially, the employees of the utility. "It's not as though we were selling our car or our house or even kicking our wife out," Bermingham said. "What we're doing here is acquiring a son-in-law, so to speak.
"He's been hanging around the family for 10 or 12 years, has helped us through when we've been in trouble. He knows what he's getting into. He knows the bad side of us, the good side of us. We've worked out a complicated pre-nuptial agreement that there's no way you could work out through competitive bidding. And I don't think you can turn back the clock."
Craig Barshinger, who is making his third try for election as senator at large, spoke in favor of the proposal. He noted that he took his house off the WAPA grid and installed full solar power several months ago but still gets a $5 WAPA bill every month.
Retired schoolteacher Doris Jadan, who spoke in opposition, issued the kind of warning she might have delivered to errant students in another day. "If you underestimate the human technical expertise of Virgin Islanders, you are in grave error," she said. "All of us today will be watching you tomorrow. It will determine in a large part how I will vote in November."
A polite plea from a power hero
Winston Smith, supervising lineman for St. John, said he had been in the field with Southern Electric during Hurricane Marilyn and subsequent weather emergencies. He also recalled his experience following Typhoon Omar in Guam when he and a small handful of WAPA linemen flew there to help.
They were assigned to an area the size of St. Thomas's Paul M. Pearson Gardens housing community with one bucket truck and four other vehicles, he said. No one expected them to do much – but by the time the day was over, the whole area had its power restored.
"We have to demand respect," Smith said. "I have nothing personal against Southern, but we have qualified people here. I would like to request that you vote no." He added, "I'm not in the habit of begging. Just vote your conscience."
Sen. Almando "Rocky" Liburd and others present called Smith "a hero" for the tireless work he and his crews put in on St. John after hurricanes and his emergency response on St. Croix and abroad.
Former senator Robert O'Connor Jr., who runs a gas station and car rental business in the heart of Cruz Bay, expressed no opinion on the proposal, but he appealed to testifiers and lawmakers to cool the rhetorical heat of the hearing. "We have a problem with the lack of respect we have for each other," he said. "We don't need to destroy each other. We're too small a community to treat each other like that."
Student refutes allegations of SEI coaching
Lydia Haynes, one of the students who had been both criticized and commended for their pro-Southern statements at earlier hearings, made all of the senators sit up and listen as she defended herself and her fellow young people.
"I am not here because Southern Energy wrote my speech," she said. "I want everybody to hear I am not a corporate puppet! I am concerned with the economy of St. John and the future of my generation."
After the testimony concluded, Bryan called Haynes to appear to respond to senators' questions, but she had already left the Legislature Building, along with Lenore Reynolds, a University of the Virgin Islands junior who also supported the Southern deal.
Bryan then commented, "I don't think these students were privy to a lot of information that we had.." Alluding to sentiments expressed by some that the students' statements had been coached by Southern, he added, "I think it's a great disrespect to our young people to use them like that."
Social worker/therapist and talk-show host Iris Kern said she was concerned about the deep divisions the WAPA debate has caused among Virgin Islanders. "There are few who are comfortable with the manner with which we have reached where we are today," she said.
School guidance counselor Monique Matthias chastised committee members for the lack of respect she said they displayed for their audience. Watching the proceedings, she said, she noted what appeared to be lack of interest among some. Even those who had already decided how they would vote, she said, were obliged to listen to what the people had to say.
As to her own views, Matthias said she opposed the Southern Energy deal. "What's best for the people of the Virgin Islands is more important than what's best for Southern," she said.
Soft-spoken student Victor Provost agreed with Matthias' criticism of the senators, but he disagreed with her on the SEI proposal. A supporter of the deal who had testified on St. Thomas on Tuesday, he said he wasn't prepared to make remarks on his home island but was saddened to hear that some senators had already made up their minds before hearing from the experts scheduled to appear before the Legislature on Friday prior to the vote.
Those who believe it's broke say it needs fixing
Klaus Willems, a retired electrical contractor, was out of retirement and into a pair of smudged work shorts when he arrived to testify. He explained that he had just left the Public Works headquarters on Gifft Hill, which was suffering its latest electrical problem. He said he favors the proposal because he runs into so many technical problems caused by power surges.
Jose Penn, president of Penn's Trucking, said he had a lot of questions about the proposal, especially about the dollar value of WAPA and its assets. While he doesn't know their true value, he said, he does know that electricity and water are essentials of life. As one of the island's water haulers, he added, those essentials are sometimes hard to find.
"There are times when you cannot get water on St. John," Penn said. "Here in this room, at other public hearings, I have heard supervisors from WAPA say they would not reimburse St. John water haulers, even though that is the law."
Coral Bay farmer Hugo Roller said challenges to the proposal coming from the employee-led WAPA Buy Out Committee, talk of rural electrical cooperatives and other alternatives to the deal "only muddy the waters." On his list of doubts were the tax breaks being offered as part of the deal. "Is a tax abatement necessary for a company that would come in and, at least initially, enjoy a monopoly?" he asked.
Senators attending the hearing were Gregory Bennerson, Lorraine Berry, Adelbert Bryan, Donald "Ducks" Cole, Roosevelt David, Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, Violet Anne Golden, Judy M. Gomez, George Goodwin, Alicia "Chucky" Hansen, David Jones, Liburd, Ali Allison Petrus and Vargrave Richards. The only senator absent was Norman Jn Baptiste.
SEI officials sat quietly throughout the hearing, listening to the testimony and the questioning afterward, directed by Bryan, Cole,
Hansen and Liburd.
Several stateside testifiers commended the lawmakers on their fortitude in listening to three days of testimony on three islands, and the people of the Virgin Islands for turning out in numbers to voice their opinions.
The agenda for Friday – and perhaps beyond
When all had been said and heard, Senate president Vargrave Richards said he was satisfied. The testimony, "some passionate, some more emotional than others," he said, "will enable senators to get a sense and a pulse of this community and where we want to go for the future."
Richards described the 23rd Legislature as facing the task of "making sure that whatever agreement we engage in is in the best interest of the people."
While not expressing his own intentions for Friday's vote, he added, "It is not an easy decision, but the financial part of our government has been sick for quite some time. The economy is bad, and people must be understanding" of any decision any senator makes that he or she believes to be "in the best interest of this territory."
Prior to the vote on Friday, the lawmakers will have the opportunity to question government and Southern Electric experts on details of the proposal to create the new entity Virgin Islands Electric and Water. Some senators were predicting Thursday that the session may last well into Friday night.
After the hearing concluded, some senators shared their views on what is likely to happen when the roll is called Friday.
Goodwin said there was a lot to still consider although he had studied the proposal for six months. Liburd said he expects the session to go into the evening. For him, he said, the issue of competitive bidding is a sticky one. Bryan, a confirmed "No" vote, said that stance does not necessarily close the door for a role for Southern Electric in helping to manage WAPA.
Petrus, the only member of the 23rd Legislature not seeking re-election, said he remained undecided. He also said he wouldn't be surprised if the vote were to be delayed until later in the weekend.

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About 20 people expressed their varying views on St. John Thursday to the Senate Committee of the Whole as it wrapped up three days of public hearings on the proposed sale of 80 percent of the Water and Power Authority to Southern Energy Inc.
The full Senate is scheduled to convene at 10 a.m. Friday and vote the deal up or down after taking testimony from representatives of the Turnbull administration, which has submitted the proposal to the 23rd Legislature for approval, and from Southern Energy officials.
Some of those who spoke Thursday had alreadly voiced their views at one, if not both, of the previous hearings, Tuesday on St. Thomas and Wednesday on St. Croix. But many witnesses were St. John residents taking the opportunity to state their opinions for the first time.
Retired investment banker Edward Bermingham said that having WAPA become part of a larger organization would work to the benefit of the consumers, the government and, especially, the employees of the utility. "It's not as though we were selling our car or our house or even kicking our wife out," Bermingham said. "What we're doing here is acquiring a son-in-law, so to speak.
"He's been hanging around the family for 10 or 12 years, has helped us through when we've been in trouble. He knows what he's getting into. He knows the bad side of us, the good side of us. We've worked out a complicated pre-nuptial agreement that there's no way you could work out through competitive bidding. And I don't think you can turn back the clock."
Craig Barshinger, who is making his third try for election as senator at large, spoke in favor of the proposal. He noted that he took his house off the WAPA grid and installed full solar power several months ago but still gets a $5 WAPA bill every month.
Retired schoolteacher Doris Jadan, who spoke in opposition, issued the kind of warning she might have delivered to errant students in another day. "If you underestimate the human technical expertise of Virgin Islanders, you are in grave error," she said. "All of us today will be watching you tomorrow. It will determine in a large part how I will vote in November."
A polite plea from a power hero
Winston Smith, supervising lineman for St. John, said he had been in the field with Southern Electric during Hurricane Marilyn and subsequent weather emergencies. He also recalled his experience following Typhoon Omar in Guam when he and a small handful of WAPA linemen flew there to help.
They were assigned to an area the size of St. Thomas's Paul M. Pearson Gardens housing community with one bucket truck and four other vehicles, he said. No one expected them to do much – but by the time the day was over, the whole area had its power restored.
"We have to demand respect," Smith said. "I have nothing personal against Southern, but we have qualified people here. I would like to request that you vote no." He added, "I'm not in the habit of begging. Just vote your conscience."
Sen. Almando "Rocky" Liburd and others present called Smith "a hero" for the tireless work he and his crews put in on St. John after hurricanes and his emergency response on St. Croix and abroad.
Former senator Robert O'Connor Jr., who runs a gas station and car rental business in the heart of Cruz Bay, expressed no opinion on the proposal, but he appealed to testifiers and lawmakers to cool the rhetorical heat of the hearing. "We have a problem with the lack of respect we have for each other," he said. "We don't need to destroy each other. We're too small a community to treat each other like that."
Student refutes allegations of SEI coaching
Lydia Haynes, one of the students who had been both criticized and commended for their pro-Southern statements at earlier hearings, made all of the senators sit up and listen as she defended herself and her fellow young people.
"I am not here because Southern Energy wrote my speech," she said. "I want everybody to hear I am not a corporate puppet! I am concerned with the economy of St. John and the future of my generation."
After the testimony concluded, Bryan called Haynes to appear to respond to senators' questions, but she had already left the Legislature Building, along with Lenore Reynolds, a University of the Virgin Islands junior who also supported the Southern deal.
Bryan then commented, "I don't think these students were privy to a lot of information that we had.." Alluding to sentiments expressed by some that the students' statements had been coached by Southern, he added, "I think it's a great disrespect to our young people to use them like that."
Social worker/therapist and talk-show host Iris Kern said she was concerned about the deep divisions the WAPA debate has caused among Virgin Islanders. "There are few who are comfortable with the manner with which we have reached where we are today," she said.
School guidance counselor Monique Matthias chastised committee members for the lack of respect she said they displayed for their audience. Watching the proceedings, she said, she noted what appeared to be lack of interest among some. Even those who had already decided how they would vote, she said, were obliged to listen to what the people had to say.
As to her own views, Matthias said she opposed the Southern Energy deal. "What's best for the people of the Virgin Islands is more important than what's best for Southern," she said.
Soft-spoken student Victor Provost agreed with Matthias' criticism of the senators, but he disagreed with her on the SEI proposal. A supporter of the deal who had testified on St. Thomas on Tuesday, he said he wasn't prepared to make remarks on his home island but was saddened to hear that some senators had already made up their minds before hearing from the experts scheduled to appear before the Legislature on Friday prior to the vote.
Those who believe it's broke say it needs fixing
Klaus Willems, a retired electrical contractor, was out of retirement and into a pair of smudged work shorts when he arrived to testify. He explained that he had just left the Public Works headquarters on Gifft Hill, which was suffering its latest electrical problem. He said he favors the proposal because he runs into so many technical problems caused by power surges.
Jose Penn, president of Penn's Trucking, said he had a lot of questions about the proposal, especially about the dollar value of WAPA and its assets. While he doesn't know their true value, he said, he does know that electricity and water are essentials of life. As one of the island's water haulers, he added, those essentials are sometimes hard to find.
"There are times when you cannot get water on St. John," Penn said. "Here in this room, at other public hearings, I have heard supervisors from WAPA say they would not reimburse St. John water haulers, even though that is the law."
Coral Bay farmer Hugo Roller said challenges to the proposal coming from the employee-led WAPA Buy Out Committee, talk of rural electrical cooperatives and other alternatives to the deal "only muddy the waters." On his list of doubts were the tax breaks being offered as part of the deal. "Is a tax abatement necessary for a company that would come in and, at least initially, enjoy a monopoly?" he asked.
Senators attending the hearing were Gregory Bennerson, Lorraine Berry, Adelbert Bryan, Donald "Ducks" Cole, Roosevelt David, Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, Violet Anne Golden, Judy M. Gomez, George Goodwin, Alicia "Chucky" Hansen, David Jones, Liburd, Ali Allison Petrus and Vargrave Richards. The only senator absent was Norman Jn Baptiste.
SEI officials sat quietly throughout the hearing, listening to the testimony and the questioning afterward, directed by Bryan, Cole, Hansen and Liburd.
Several stateside testifiers commended the lawmakers on their fortitude in listening to three days of testimony on three islands, and the people of the Virgin Islands for turning out in numbers to voice their opinions.
The agenda for Friday – and perhaps beyond
When all had been said and heard, Senate president Vargrave Richards said he was satisfied. The testimony, "some passionate, some more emotional than others," he said, "will enable senators to get a sense and a pulse of this community and where we want to go for the future."
Richards described the 23rd Legislature as facing the task of "making sure that whatever agreement we engage in is in the best interest of the people."
While not expressing his own intentions for Friday's vote, he added, "It is not an easy decision, but the financial part of our government has been sick for quite some time. The economy is bad, and people must be understanding" of any decision any senator makes that he or she believes to be "in the best interest of this territory."
Prior to the vote on Friday, the lawmakers will have the opportunity to question government and Southern Electric experts on details of the proposal to create the new entity Virgin Islands Electric and Water. Some senators were predicting Thursday that the session may last well into Friday night.
After the hearing concluded, some senators shared their views on what is likely to happen when the roll is called Friday.
Goodwin said there was a lot to still consider although he had studied the proposal for six months. Liburd said he expects the session to go into the evening. For him, he said, the issue of competitive bidding is a sticky one. Bryan, a confirmed "No" vote, said that stance does not necessarily close the door for a role for Southern Electric in helping to manage WAPA.
Petrus, the only member of the 23rd Legislature not seeking re-election, said he remained undecided. He also said he wouldn't be surprised if the vote were to be delayed until later in the weekend.