In a special session Thursday called by Gov. Kenneth Mapp, the V.I. Legislature voted to hold off on approving plans for ArcLight affiliate Limetree Bay to run an oil storage business at the shuttered Hovensa refinery, pending a public hearing scheduled for Monday, Dec. 21. [Concession Agreement]
While supportive of much in the concession agreement for ArcLight’s purchase of Hovensa, senators said they wanted public hearings on St. Croix and objected to being "threatened" with a short deadline to pass the deal during a 12-hour Committee of the Whole hearing on the sale agreement Wednesday.
Senators heard testimony and questioned V.I. officials and principals in the planned oil storage project Wednesday, and suggested that they would likely hold the bill. Thursday, senators made clear they had no intention of acting immediately.
"I certainly want to give my constituents, the people of the Virgin Islands, an opportunity to understand what is in the bill (because) it will affect their lives," Sen. Jean Forde said, urging his fellow senators to hold off "as we discuss it in public hearings."
Sen. Tregenza Roach said he agreed about hearing from St. Croix residents before acting, but also had concerns about the plan itself, and the long, 40-year time frame.
"Even if I have a very long life, I don’t think I will be here for 40 years,” Roach said. The long time-frame concerned him because the deal also includes fixed payments in lieu of taxes.
"I have a question in my mind if the fixed payments are really going to protect the Virgin Islands," Roach said.
Over such a long time frame, fixed payments that seem large today may be less generous, as prices go up and the size of the business increases, he suggested.
Roach said he "would listen more," but is concerned.
Sen. Novelle Francis said he supports the concession agreement, but "again, having the opportunity to take a public hearing over to St. Croix is critical and necessary," and it is important to "do our due diligence" before ratifying "an agreement that will affect the people for over 40 years."
Sen. Sammuel Sanes also said there needs to be a hearing on St. Croix. He said he was also concerned about air and water quality monitors around the refinery and also about whether those who develop health issues related to pollution from the refinery would be protected.
Sen. Janette Millin Young said she did not believe the Mapp administration’s claim that the sale would bring $809 million to the territory.
"I don’t see it. I don’t believe it," she said.
The figure included more than $300 million in direct cash payments to the V.I. government, but also counted $368 million in tax refund claims by Hovensa’s owners, which are disputed by the V.I. government, and would be dropped if the concession agreement is approved.
The Legislature voted to hold the bill approving the concession agreement by a 14 to 1 margin, with Sen. Nereida "Nellie" Rivera-O’Reilly casting the sole "no" vote. O’Reilly had proposed an amendment to the motion to hold, specifying the St. Croix hearing would be Monday, Dec. 21 and the agreement would be voted on again in session Tuesday, Dec. 22. Senators voted down her amendment and instead voted to hold the measure "pending further action."
Senate President Neville James said the Legislature would post notice of a public hearing on St. Croix for Monday, Dec. 21.
Senators voted unanimously to approve a bill [Bill 31-0252] changing the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act to meet federal requirements. The changes are required by the federal government and if they are not made, the territory could stop receiving federal funds for the Department of Justice’s paternity division, Francis said. Mapp had called for the bill to be considered in the special session because the changes needed to be enacted before Dec. 31.
After acting on the two bills, James adjourned the special session, then rose out of recess from Tuesday’s session to act on a number of pending bills.