Op Ed from DN:
August 25, 2018
Politicians say that we are at a crossroads, facing economic hardship. But we are in a political year and promises are a comfort to a fool. The late, great Bob Marley once said, “Never trust a politician to grant you a favor, they will always want to control you forever.”
Politicians have looked upon the agreement between Limetree Bay Terminals and the Virgin Islands government as manna from heaven. However, when you read the document word for word, page by page, and do the math, it does not add up to manna from heaven.
Believe me, from the negotiation table of the government of the Virgin Islands and Limetree Bay Terminals, we got the falling crumbs of manna from heaven instead of a fair share whereby both parties benefit for the betterment of the people of the Virgin Islands. A dog is better off than we are, as a people under this agreement.
More than 50 years ago, two industrial giants, Harvey Aluminum plant and Hess Oil Refinery, established themselves on the south shore of St. Croix. In the 1960s, the industrial revolution took place in the Virgin Islands with the phasing out of the sugarcane industry on St. Croix.
The Krause Lagoon, the largest wetland in the Virgin Islands, was destroyed when lawmakers decided to vote in favor of developing the south shore of St. Croix as an industrial complex. Issues that we face today, such as jobs for locals, were the same issues 50 years ago. Leo Harvey promised to build an aluminum plant and dredge the south shore lagoon of St. Croix if the Virgin Islands government would give him 750 acres and award large tax subsidies.
Harvey also promised the aluminum plant development would create hundreds of jobs for local people. From the beginning of this deal, the community was locked out. The deal was kept quiet, according to the late Frits E. Lawaetz, who was a senator at that time. Public hearings were eventually held that would not allow the community to ask questions about the deal. It was later learned that the public hearing was a joke because the Unity majority in the Senate at that time and the governor already signed the deal in a secret session on Feb. 20, 1962.
To make a long political story short, senators were given the agreement to vote up or down with no changes allowed. Hundreds of people were imported to work at the aluminum plant. Harvey claimed local people were unskilled. For years, our government fought in court for the aluminum plant company to clean up the environment.
Meanwhile, hundreds of local people got sick, and some died, blaming the company. The mountain of red dust from the aluminum plant landed on rooftops of houses for decades, impacting the quality of life for residents downwind from the plant. When Hess Oil Refinery arrived on St. Croix in the middle of the 1960s, you would think our government would do a better job negotiating a good deal for the people of these islands.
Unlike the aluminum plant, Hess Oil Refinery built a training school, but few locals graduated. As a result, few locals entered the workforce of the oil refinery. Folks from other Caribbean islands who had the experience and skills with refineries got the jobs. Other workers were brought in from the U.S. mainland to make up the difference.
As Virgin Islanders, we must admit that the standard of living in the Virgin Islands had increased with the industrial development on the south shore of St. Croix.
However, we have paid a great price with the impact of the environment and our health. The first agreement with Leon Hess, and others in between including the present agreement with Limetree Bay Terminals and ArcLight, were not in the best interest of the people of these islands. The many tax exemptions the company received, and the other agreements in the proposal all favored the company. Beside all the benefit the company is getting from this government, the issue I believe is the impacts on the marine and terrestrial environments and on human health. You can’t put a value on human life.
For more than 50 years since the industrial complex came to exist on St. Croix, we don’t have a cancer registry in the Virgin Islands. Hundreds of residents have died from cancer. Besides some of the food that we eat, our air is filled with environmental toxins. We breathe the air every day. Sometimes when you are diagnosed with cancer, you might hear the doctor say environmental toxin. In other words, you can get cancer from the air, water, soil, living near industrial areas, etc. Believe me, the impact of the oil refinery on the environment is far-reaching.
Along the south, west, and northwest shores of St. Croix, I have found on many occasions oil deposits that wash up on our beaches. For example, Manning’s Bay west of the refinery has sand that is black from pollution. The entire south shore of St. Croix is gone forever. It is the most polluted place in the Virgin Islands coastal waters. If senators had hiked with me on the south shore of St. Croix, they would have probably not voted for the agreement.
“From Lime Tree Bay to Sandy Point, once sparkling, translucent water now resembled watered down milk. Colloidal clays in suspension destroyed reefs and fish and made bathing repulsive. The entire estuarine faunal life wreathed in the throes of extirpation, if not already dead. Here and there, a few gray ghosts of once luxuriant mangrove cropped out of poisonous–looking mud. An entire living, breathing, self-perpetuating, interrelated cosmography now lay under roads, buildings, tanks, piers, pipes, and stacks belching offensive and deleterious effluvium into the summer sky,” wrote the late George A. Seaman.
With his last breath, Seaman said, “As I looked I felt a heavy depression in my heart. A great sadness filled me, as I realized it was too late in our blind, forward march to stay this hand of Esau. History and time have taught men nothing; he will still sell his birthright. So be it.”
I rest my case.
— Olasee Davis, St. Croix, is an ecologist at the University of the Virgin Islands. He is active in Virgin Islands historical, cultural and environmental preservation.