Victories in the ongoing battles between Martin County residents and governments and Lake Point – plus an unrelated win upholding Martin’s protective growth plan – gave county residents reason to celebrate last week.
Forbes 400 billionaire George Lindemann Sr. and his millionaire son, George Lindemann Jr. are developers of the Lake Point rock pit in western Martin. It’s involved in lawsuits against the county, South Florida Water Management District, and a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation filed against former Martin Commissioner Maggy Hurchalla.
There are four big wins to cheer.
- Martin Circuit Court Judge F. Shields McManus found the county innocent of breaking public records laws. Lake Point accused the county of destroying or altering emails among Commissioners Sarah Heard and Ed Fielding and former Commissioner Maggy Hurchalla and failure to turn them over promptly. McManus said the county “did not unlawfully refuse” to let the emails be inspected.
- The Florida Elections Commission levied an unusually large fine – $4,500 – against John McAuliffe of Palm City and Martin County Residents for Tax Fairness. That political action committee accepted money from individuals and corporate entities connected with Lake Point to back a Lake Point employee and the editor of a monthly newspaper in their unsuccessful bids to win seats on the Martin County Commission. McAuliffe falsely certified that three of the finance reports for his PAC were accurate when they weren’t, and reported spending money without adequate cash to cover expenses.
- Judge McManus ruled that Lindemann Sr. must answer questions in a deposition, despite his lawyers’ contentions he knows nothing about the Lake Point project. It’s also a chance for residents to learn why the Lindemanns are so involved in Martin projects and politics. Lake Point lawyers recently launched yet another lawsuit against the county on behalf of Bill Reily, developer of the failed Pitchford’s Landing project in Jensen Beach.
- And, unrelated to the Lindemann cases, a state administrative law judge upheld Martin’s protective growth plan, limiting the chances that controversial projects such as the failed Extreme Water Sports Park will try to break the county’s protective urban services boundary.
Lake Point is a rock mine east of the Port Mayaca Locks near the Martin-Palm Beach County line. Under an agreement with a previous, growth-friendly majority on the Martin County Commission, the firm was to mine rock on the land for several years and then turn over the land to the South Florida Water Management District and build a stormwater treatment facility.
Lake Point has sued Martin, claiming the stormwater project doesn’t have to follow county land development rules and that the firm can mine on the entire property – plus transport and sell water to other counties. The firm once made a presentation to West Palm Beach, offering to supply the city with water, but Martin maintains the company cannot supply water to others.
Lake Point litigation includes many other issues, which, if the two sides can’t settle, eventually will go to trial.
The Florida Elections Commission ruling is interesting because of the $4,500 fine. Most FEC fines are of the slap-on-the-wrist sort, in the $200 to $400 range.
According to an email from environmental lawyer Virginia Sherlock, the McAuliffe PAC had only eight donors: Martin County Leadership Council ($23,000), a nonexistent group that only incorporated after the FEC complaint was filed; Lake Point lawyer John Metzger and J & K Investments ($250 each), located at the same address; McDonald Hopkins LLC, Metzger’s law firm ($1,000); and Floridians for Accountability ($120,000) a PAC that received money from Lake Point groups.
Martin County Infrastructure Policy Council, Inc. ($22,735) and Treasure Coast Citizens Council ($6,673.50) also are nonexistent groups not listed on Florida’s or other states’ corporation sites.
Talk about proof for the need for election law reform.
Critics sometimes claim the county should give in to special interests to avoid lawsuits. Recent results, though, show why standing up for what’s right is the better choice. Eventually, bullies will get the message that Martin defends its rules and its actions. And the county is not afraid of a fight.
Sally Swartz is a former member of The Palm Beach Post Editorial Board. Her e-mail address is [email protected]. Column courtesy of Context Florida.