Gov. John deJongh Jr. said he is looking forward to Monday’s Senate hearing on the proposed Fourth Amendment to the Hovensa refinery agreement.
His comments came after he responded to a letter from Senate President Shawn-Michael Malone outlining the areas of concern senators have over the agreement.
The Senate rejected the proposal in an Aug. 7 vote and, on Oct. 1, forwarded a list of concerns and suggestions for improving the deal, which is designed to govern a one-year sales process for the shuttered refinery on St. Croix.
An issue for some senators is that they want the clarifications written into the agreement, rather than added as a separate letter. Both deJongh and company officials have said they do not want to reopen the negotiations but wanted to clarify and reassure the senators that the territory is protected.
The letter of clarification is signed by owners of the company and deJongh. On Oct. 27 Attorney General Vincent Frazer issued on opinion that, if enacted by the Senate, the agreement and letter will be legally binding on the company.
The governor reiterated the point in Thursday’s statement.
"The attorney general would not recommend to me to sign off on an agreement that does not bind the owners and require them to do certain things upon the approval and that is very clear," he said.
The governor said all parties have come a long way since the acrimonious Aug. 7 Senate session. He urged the senators to keep in mind the importance of generating economic activity at the refinery site, which ceased operations in 2012.
"We can’t lose focus and I hope we don’t lose focus that the intent here is only and primarily to get it into a sales process so that we can get a new buyer for the facility to rejuvenate and have economic activity at the facility," he said.
DeJongh reminded lawmakers of the economic problems that ensued when Hovensa ceased refining at the site and transformed it into an oil storage facility, costing the territory more than 2,000 jobs. The government lost more than $100 million in direct revenues and the economy took a $500 million hit from the lost employment and the economic activity it generated, he said.
"That’s what’s driving this, making sure we can get a purchaser that really is ready and able to give us that sort of economic activity," he said.
While approval of the agreement does not guarantee that the refinery will be sold, deJongh remains hopeful.
"We’ve had a number of companies that continued to express interest in going forward, so clearly the interest is there," he said.
Passage of the agreement will send a signal to potential investors that "we’re willing to do business and we’re open to do business. We want to do business," deJongh said.
He said he is optimistic that the last three weeks have provided an opportunity to reassure the lawmakers.
"I think we’ve been able to address a lot of the concern that that the senators have, and also to clarify certain areas, which clearly I think has given a much better understanding of the agreement. We’ve come a tremendously long way," deJongh said.