Not content to wait for a political solution to the Hovensa crisis, a group of current and former St. Croix residents are using social media to take matters into their own hands.
Leslie Highfield Carter, a native of St. Croix now living in Delray Beach, Fla., said that when Hovensa announced it was closing its refinery on St. Croix, her friends and family immediately started speculating about what was next for the island. She thought that if she could organize these conversations, maybe something good would come of it. “I wanted to create a place where people could come together and get some ideas going,” she said.
On the Saturday after the announcement, she formed a Facebook group called “The St. Croix Think Tank” and invited people to post questions, concerns, and proposals. Within 48-hours, almost 1,000 people had joined the group, a number that has since swelled to almost 1,400. “I had no idea it would create that much interest,” Carter said.
The page receives dozens of posts and comments a day from people sharing news, proposing ideas, or simply venting their frustration. The proposals range from the simple to the grandiose, and cover a wide range of topics, including tourism, economic development, and government reform.
Carter believes the group has become popular because people have lost faith in the government of the Virgin Islands and are eager to see a grassroots solution.
“The thing I keep hearing over and over again is a complete dissatisfaction with the government,” Carter said. “People are angry, but they feel driven to do something.”
Some of the most popular ideas proposed on the page include building a solar or wind farm to help lower electricity bills, shrinking the size of the senate from 15 members to nine, creating new tourist-friendly events such as music or film festivals, and renovating abandoned buildings in Christiansted and Frederiksted.
Carter said that the next step for the group is to transform the hodge-podge of ideas they’ve received into a clear mission.
“What are our grievances as residents of St. Croix? What would we like changed?” Carter asked. “We want to get a list of the most popular topics and have people really focus on those things.”
Khema Loving, a school guidance counselor living on St. Croix, is spearheading the effort to move the St. Croix Think Tank from the Internet to reality. Loving was one of the group’s first members and was made an administrator by Carter. She is currently working on the paperwork to have the group incorporated as a nonprofit organization.
Like Carter, Loving said that she was shocked when she heard Hovensa was closing and said that it is still hard to accept.
“It still seems, I don’t know, maybe its temporary. Maybe they’re having a temper-tantrum and maybe they’ll change their minds,” Loving said. “But that’s wishful thinking. We just have to work as if they’re not going to be there.”
Loving said that in the wake of the announcement, she found comfort in an odd place. While fueling her car, she asked a local gas station owner what he would do without the refinery on the island. “He said, ‘My dear, I’m going to find another supplier and keep on moving forward.’ And I thought if he isn’t worried, I shouldn’t be worried either,” she recalled.
Loving’s first priority for the nonprofit is to start fundraising, so they can implement some small projects. While she believes it’s still worthwhile to lobby the government for large changes like renewable energy, she acknowledges that it will take a lot of time and money to make them to happen. In the meantime, she encourages people to get involved however they can in their own neighborhoods.
“Let’s start with the things we can do, the things we can control,” Loving said
Loving would like to see the Think Tank sponsor some community clean-ups and find ways to help local small businesses. She is currently recruiting volunteers for one such project—helping a local businesswoman clean out a property in Christiansted and reopen it as a salsa studio and lounge. It’s a small step, but it’s the type of action Loving and Carter believe will help turn St. Croix’s fortunes around.
“With or without Hovensa and with or without cruise ships, we still have each other,” Loving said. “So what are we going to do?”