Top V.I. officials discuss HOVENSA behind closed doors
Published: September 20, 2012
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ST. CROIX - Gov. John deJongh Jr. said Wednesday that HOVENSA officials have called him to request a meeting, which will likely occur within the next two weeks.
The governor also noted that as of Wednesday, he had still not received a formal response from HOVENSA to his counterproposals for the future of the company's former refinery on St. Croix's south shore.
In a televised speech more than six weeks ago, the governor publicly rejected HOVENSA's proposal to operate as a petroleum storage facility and instead called on the company to reopen its refinery or sell it. HOVENSA announced in January that it would cease refining operations in February, which it did.
DeJongh said Wednesday that no date had been set yet for the HOVENSA meeting - but that he expects it to occur within the next two weeks.
The governor spoke during a brief interview after meeting about the HOVENSA situation behind closed doors Wednesday evening with 12 of the 29th Legislature's 15 senators in a building at the governor's office in Frederiksted.
The public was not allowed into that meeting.
DeJongh characterized the meeting as a chance "to sit down with senators to answer any questions."
He said the meeting was strictly informational, "really to keep the line of communications open," and contended that no decisions were made.
He said representatives were at the meeting from Duff & Phelps, the company that provided the government with oil industry advice and prepared a report and analysis on the possible future uses of the refinery. They fielded questions from senators, he said.
The closed-door meeting between the governor and senators lasted for approximately three and a half hours, although some senators arrived later than others - and some left early.
Most senators who spoke to The Daily News said there was little in the way of new information offered - but that they were pleased that the governor wanted to keep the lines of communication open.
Responding to a question, deJongh contended that there was nothing wrong with officials barring the public from the meeting with the senators.
The Daily News contends that any such meetings that include a quorum of senators should be open to the public.
DeJongh said he sees little difference in the kind of meeting he called Wednesday evening and most of his other meetings.
The governor compared barring the public from the meeting he called with senators to what he described as The Daily News' editorial board asking his communications director to leave while the governor was interviewed at some point in the past.
DeJongh said he has been very open with the public about the HOVENSA situation and said he had been meeting with other groups about the Duffs & Phelps report, including the Chambers of Commerce.
Senate President Ronald Russell contended that the gathering of 12 senators with the governor Wednesday evening was not a meeting at all - but was a caucus instead.
"Anything we doing ain't subject to the Sunshine Act and that's how it is," Russell said during a phone interview Wednesday afternoon about the upcoming gathering of senators with the governor. Senators exempted their caucuses from the requirements of the Sunshine Law.
"You have to trust us. Whenever we have very important information, we share it with the public," Russell said.
Senators who met with the governor on Thursday were: Sen. Carlton Dowe, Sen. Alicia Hansen, Sen. Louis Hill, Sen. Neville James, Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone, Sen. Terrence Nelson, Sen. Usie Richards, Sen. Nereida Rivera-O'Reilly, Russell, Sen. Sammuel Sanes, Sen. Patrick Simeon Sprauve and Sen. Janette Millin Young.
Senators who were not at the meeting were Sen. Craig Barshinger, Sen. Celestino White Sr., and Sen. Alvin Williams Jr.
Hansen said she is 100 percent behind the governor's position on HOVENSA and is willing to help in whatever way she can.
She said she did not know why the public was barred from the meeting, and added that she did not think any confidential information was presented.
O'Reilly said she had hoped there would be news about the HOVENSA situation.
"They haven't responded. I was hoping we were going to find out HOVENSA had responded," she said, adding that she is pleased that the governor is trying to keep senators informed.
"I am happy to see the governor is trying to keep us in the loop," she said.
Richards, responding to a question about what is happening with HOVENSA as he emerged from the gathering, said "I'm waiting to find that out myself."
Russell would not say what happened at the meeting and referred inquiries to deJongh.
Administration officials who attended the meeting included Lt. Gov. Gregory Francis, Attorney General Vincent Frazer, Department of Planning and Natural Resources Commissioner Alicia Barnes and Deputy Chief of Staff Nathan Simmonds.
A statement Government House released quoted the governor saying:
"This sort of open engagement is important to ensure that decisions are made with all parties having the same information to be able to undertake their responsibilities."