Sally Swartz: Stinky lawsuits befoul Martin County development fights

It’s skunk week in Martin County. Not to malign Florida’s real skunks, but their human imitators have left an odiferous trail countywide this week. On the hit list: A respected environmental group, Martin County government, and residents who have fought developers who don’t want to follow the county’s protective growth rules.

The stinkers: Sugar industry shills. Pitchford’s Landing developer Bill Reily’s Reily Enterprises LLC. And Lake Point, backed by very rich men who seem to be targeting Martin County and others with nuisance lawsuits.

For starters, folks paid by the sugar industry have asked the Internal Revenue Service to investigate their complaint that the Rivers Coalition doesn’t deserve to be tax-exempt.

The coalition, organized 17 years ago to fight discharges of Lake Okeechobee water into the St. Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon, includes more than 70 environmental groups, businesses and homeowners associations. It represents more than 300,000 residents of Martin and St. Lucie counties.

The IRS won’t say whether it’s investigating, but the accuser hoped to make a ripple on social media with the charges. Coalition Chairman Leon Abood, river warrior Kenny Hinkle Jr. and others are standing up for the coalition.

Next up for stinker of the week: Bill Reily, developer of Pitchford’s Landing. After dinking around for a decade, targeting opponents with Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs), and failing to come up with a coherent development plan, Reily’s development plan was denied Tuesday. Martin County commissioners voted 4-1 to nix his application after he spent months stonewalling county staff and refusing to comply with policies in the county’s protective growth plan.

Residents, some of whom were targeted by the SLAPP Reily eventually settled, asked the commissioners to make Reily follow county rules.

“We just want what we always wanted,” said Jackie Trancyger, one of the original 20 Reily sued, “proper planning on that site” and consideration of issues affecting the Indian River Lagoon.

The day after the commission vote, lawyers for Lake Point filed a lawsuit against the county on Reily’s behalf. The county, to its credit, suspected Reily’s representatives were planning a lawsuit and prepared its recommendations carefully.

That brings us to the week’s Super Stinker: Lake Point. Lake Point, a rock pit in western Martin whose investors agree with Reily that they don’t want to follow Martin’s growth plan rules, also has sued Martin County and the South Florida Water Management District.

In addition, Lake Point filed a SLAPP against former commissioner Maggy Hurchalla before Florida lawmakers approved an anti-SLAPP law in April. The law isn’t retroactive, so Hurchalla still is defending her right to speak out in opposition to the Lake Point project.

Lake Point developers include George Lindemann Jr., a millionaire and son  of George Lindemann Sr., a billionaire.

The senior Lindemann is listed as the 218th richest person on the “Forbes 400” list for 2015 and has an estimated net worth of $4.2 billion.

Lindemann affiliates dumped $150,000 into anonymous political action committees in the most recent Martin County Commission race in an unsuccessful attempt to unseat Commissioners Sarah Heard and Ed Fielding.

One of the candidates they backed, Stacey Hetherington, was a Lake Point employee. The other losing candidate, Barbara Clowdus, owns a monthly newspaper that has taken ads from the sugar industry. Clowdus frequently defends Lake Point and criticizes the county for being involved in lawsuits.

In addition, the same fake online “news outlet” that posted lies during the commission election posted information on the IRS complaint against the Rivers Coalition last week.

So many hold-your-nose moments in Martin in one short skunk week. If the stinking trend continues through the 2016 elections, residents will need gas masks and respirators.

Sally Swartz is a former member of The Palm Beach Post Editorial Board. Her e-mail address is [email protected]t. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

Sally Swartz


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