EYE ON MIAMI

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Why is Miami Beach billionaire George Lindeman continuing to sue Maggie Hurchalla? by gimleteye

Nathaniel Reed, a prominent environmentalist, writes in the Palm Beach Post on the fruitless lawsuit waged by Miami Beach billionaire George Lindeman against a former Martin County Commissioner and Miami native, Maggy Hurchalla.

In "Point of view: Suit won’t alter fact: Lake Point can’t sell public water", Reed asks, "Why is Maggy Hurchalla being attacked through the legal system for telling the truth about Lake Point’s proposal to divert water from Lake Okeechobee and pump it into the firms’ excavations for storage?"

Lindeman -- one of the heirs to the Verizon fortune -- scooped up Biscayne Boulevard real estate before the boom swept up the area and sold off most, before the crash. He took a big piece of that wealth and invested in rock mining of a curious parcel of land at the southeast corner of Lake Okeechobee. Lindeman had no previous experience in rock mining: one of the biggest and most secretive and powerful in Florida. At the time, Lindeman told me that the Fanjuls -- Florida's black hat, Big Sugar billionaires -- had alerted him to the investment opportunity. Lindeman sought my support, as an environmental leader in Florida, for a plan to mine limestone in the area in exchange for putting a portion of the land in conservation protection.

I wouldn't have touched the issue with a fifty foot pole. The Fanjuls then, as now, are wealthy and sharp enough to control the levers of water management and water policy in Florida. With their co-cartel neighbors, US Sugar Corporation, the Fanjuls operate the state legislature as though it were a client state. In an early short story, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, "Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them ... They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are ... Even when they enter deep into our world or sink below us, they still think that they are better than we are."

From an environmental point of view, the problem with Big Sugar is that it squats on 700,000 or so acres that are critical to the future of South Florida's drinking water supply and to the hopes for restoration of America's faded glory: the Everglades.

Reed's OPED tries to illuminate what is really behind Lindeman's SLAPP suit against Maggie Hurchalla: a plan to establish a precedent to privatize Florida's water supply. (
Forbackground on Hurchalla, check our archive.)

With no experience in rock mining, Lindeman's investment appears to have foundered. The Fanjul's strategy for keeping government and environmentalists at bay has always included filing permits for other industrial activities on its former Everglades wetlands; from rock mining, to inland ports, railway transit, energy plants, power lines -- you name it. All, precursor activities to planting more suburban sprawl in the middle of the Everglades Agricultural Area -- a region of Florida that, for farmworkers at least, is desperately poor and a million miles away from the Palm Beach mansions and support systems of Big Sugar.

Did George Lindeman know what kind of hornet's nest he was stepping into, when he changed his business strategy to include "mining" Florida water? If he didn't, it is because he wouldn't take the time to listen.

The SLAPP suit against Maggie Hurchalla is premised on the outrageous notion that a private citizen interfered in governmental processes that should have protected Lindeman's ability to enter a contractual arrangement to sell water on his Lake Point property to a Florida municipality. That is not how Florida water law works. Under Florida law -- unlike states like Texas -- water is not private property. There are plenty of reasons that Lindeman and his Big Sugar allies, from the Fanjuls to the Texas King Ranch interests in Florida, would want to change that law. They would turn their wetlands, exhausted from growing sugarcane, into another way to mint money at the public expense.

Reed writes, 

"Lake Point does not have a valid permit to obtain Lake Okeechobee’s water. Any competent Florida attorney knows that the “waters of the state” are owned by the “people” and are managed in trust for them by the five water management districts with oversight provided by the state Department of Environmental Regulation. I suspect that any plan to divert the lake’s water would also require permission from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with input from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Why haven’t Lake Point’s owners pursued the necessary permits? Do the owners honestly believe that Hurchalla’s critique influenced the pertinent decision-makers sufficiently to cast their vague proposal in the scrap heap?

The concept of being permitted to store water during high rainfall events, holding it in pits and then selling the public’s water to counties and/or cities that have overgrown their own water supplies is not part of eastern water law. The sale of the public water by a third party simply is not permitted.

So why the SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) against Hurchalla? Is there any evidence that she maliciously pointed out the fallacy of the Lake Point’s initial vague proposal?

Is there any evidence that her observations based on “common sense and years of homework” influenced decision-makers to critically review and tell Lake Point that their contract does not allow them to sell the waters of the state?

SLAPP suits were originated by developers, who, annoyed at public input on their plans, sought to muzzle any criticisms of their proposals. What if our Founding Fathers were sued for speaking out against the heavy hands of the Crown? Our country was built on citizens’ opinions, especially when Hurchalla’s opinions are supported by fact, undeniable facts.

The day responsible criticism is threatened by wealthy developers of controversial projects is a sad day in America."

George Lindeman has been immune to criticism about his lawsuit against Hurchalla. It has become an unseemly burden, though, and degenerating from stubborn unwillingness to change direction into a point of pride where cost is no obstacle. It is a shame because there is a lot of good in George Lindeman. Why he is bearing Big Sugar's cross is a mystery.

Lake Point Hard Hats

The Slappee with Slapp Protector attorneys Howard Heims and Ginny Sherlock on a court ordered inspection tour of Lake Point.

Thank you for having my back!

Maggy