WHAT IS LAKEPOINT?

How did a sugar cane field become a subdivision for polo players…

   and then a lime rock mining operation…

   and then a storage and treatment area to save the Everglades…

   and then a plan to privatize water from Lake Okeechobee and sell it?

Lake Point is an obscure 2200 acre piece of property in the far western part of Martin County. It is on State Road 76 across the road from the St. Lucie Canal. The St. Lucie Canal (C44) leads from Lake Okeechobee east to the St. Lucie River and is used to dump Lake Okeechobee when it rains too hard. Trucane Sugar, a subsidiary of Florida Crystals, owned the Lake Point property and raised sugar cane on it for a number of years.

Around 2005 things began to change.

Trucane sold the property in 2005 to George Blakely. Blakely declared he was going to build a polo club there to take the overflow from the crowded equestrian center at Wellington in Palm Beach County.

In 2006, the SFWMD announced they were buying the property for an exorbitant price. The announcement came out of the blue. An uproar ensued. The property was not on CERP acquisition lists. Critical priorities for Everglades restoration acquisitions would be sidelined in order to make the purchase. The SFWMD withdrew the offer.

In May of 2007, Martin County granted development approval for a 20 acre lot subdivision with stormwater lakes for Lake Point Phase I. Enthusiastic articles were written about the joys of polo playing in Martin County.

In December of 2007, the consultant for the project came before Martin County to announce that they had a problem. They had found there was rock on the property. Rock hurts horses’ hooves. They needed a mining permit to haul rock off the property. The County Commission gave them a mining permit and revised the site plan to expand the size of the lakes.

In January of 2008 the Palm Beach Post reported that Phase I of Lake Pointy had been sold to Judson Laird for $29,000 an acre. As of March 2008, George Lindemann Jr. was listed as agent for Lake Point.

In the spring of 2008 everything changed. A representative from the SFWMD announced that the site was unique because the rock formation was impermeable and could hold water. This would make it possible to have water storage without building an expensive above ground reservoir. This enthusiastic description was quickly withdrawn. It was plain old leaky limerock.

But the SFWMD announced that they were continuing to work with Lake Point to create a public stormwater project because the property presented unique opportunities. It could restore the St. Lucie River and the Indian River Lagoon by storing and cleaning water from Lake Okeechobee discharges. As a bonus, the District might be able to use the right of way connection to the St. Lucie Canal to provide dry season flows for the Loxahatchee River in Palm Beach County.

It was to be a win-win public private partnership that didn’t cost the public anything and would be a key part of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Project. Lake Point would dig a 1000 acre hole in the ground and sell the rock. When Lake Okeechobee was discharging, water would be pumped from the St. Lucie Canal into the rockpit. The rest of the 1000 acres would be given to the SFWMD to create a stormwater treatment area. Supposedly, it was all about storage and water quality.

Lake Point would deed the property to the District at no cost with reservations to mine the rockpit and sell the fill for 20 years. The County would be given a 150 acre preserve area.

In Aug 2008, Martin County signed an Interlocal Agreement with the SFWMD approving of the public works project with the assurance that it would comply with all county policies. The SFWMD signed a contract with Lake Point for acquisition and development on November 21, 2008. That contract was amended and finalized on May of 2009.

While agencies were negotiating that summer, I was asked to meet with the owner, George Lindemann,Jr. I had lunch with George in Miami. I explained to him that there were problems with the sales pitch surrounding the project. You can’t store water in a hole in the ground. If you dig a hole, it fills up with water from the surrounding aquifer. The original assertion that the rock formation was uniquely impervious wasn’t true. I pointed out that there was a large CERP project on the St. Lucie Canal (the C44 Reservoir) that would store and treat canal water more efficiently at a much larger scale. I suggested he not close on the option on the second half of the property. He indicated that his aim was to help the Everglades and he would not want to do anything that didn’t.

Lindemann closed on his option to buy the second half of the property adjacent to his “polo ranches” development after approval of the the Interlocal Agreement between SFWMD and Martin County.

Lindemann paid somewhere between $53 million and $59.3 million for the property. That’s roughly $26,000 an acre for sugar cane land near Lake Okeechobee. For comparison: a year later, Charlie Crist was working out an agreement with US Sugar to buy sugar cane land at $7400 an acre. In 2012 the Lake Point property was valued at $6.2 million by the property appraiser. That’s less than $2,800 an acre.

The contract with the District did not mention selling water.

The Interlocal Agreement the County signed with the District did not mention selling water.

The Lake Point received mining permits from the DEP in January, 2011. The Corps approved a mining permit that was issued on Dec 27, 2012 that allowed 49.7 acres of wetlands to be excavated and 11.2 acres of wetlands to be filled.

Mining proceeded. The rockpit got bigger.

No land was donated to Martin County or SFWMD.

In January of 2011 a consultant told the Lake Worth Drainage District Board in Palm Beach County that they had a “new group” with a source of water for the L 51 reservoir they were considering. The water would come from the St. Lucie Canal to the Lake Point rockpit. The L8 canal would be extended north to the rockpit to connect the St. Lucie Canal to the C51 canal in Palm Beach County. The connections would allow water to be pumped south from the St.Lucie Canal and Lake Okeechobee to the planned C 51 reservoir. From there it could be pumped through canals to coastal cities from Palm Beach County to Dade County.

The consultant did note that there were no studies showing that Lake Point would have water available to sell when water was needed.

The consultant to the Lake Worth Board explained how Lake Point had morphed into water selling. He noted that “a few years ago everyone wanted to be in the rock business and these people said they were in the mining business. Then the market dried up for rock and all of a sudden they want to be in the water business.”

After initially contacting the Lake Worth Drainage District to sell water, Lake Point, in partnership with American Water, pursued the same idea with the City of West Palm Beach. American water is the largest private water company in the US. It bought Enron’s water subsidiary after Enron imploded.

Newspaper articles about the WPB City Commission meeting in August of 2012 indicated that Lake Point was planning to sell water from Martin County. The engineer for Lake Point said they thought they could deliver 30 to 35 million gallons a day..

When Lake Point first complained about how they needed to get rid of the rock because it hurt the hooves of the polo ponies, the Corps was rebuilding the Lake Okeechobee dike a mile away and the rock business looked really good. It turned out that Lake Point rock was not suitable for levee repair. Now West Palm Beach was in a drought emergency and selling water looked good.

Meanwhile the SFWMD was repeatedly telling Lake Point in staff meetings that they could not be in the water selling business unless the mining contract was amended.

In December of 2012 the Martin County Commission asked staff to look at the project. Staff came back in January with a list of code violations related to the subdivision approval.

I sent a public email to the County Commission outlining all the problems Lake Point had. They were the same problems I’d been talking about in the beginning with George Lindemann. They were the same problems I talked about in private as well as in public. The email to the commissioners said the same thing I told everyone I had talked to about Lake Point.

Lake Point promptly sued The SFWMD, Martin County and me.

They said that I had caused the county and the agency to breach their contracts. It’s called “tortious interference.” They said I had a secret plot to interfere with Lake Point's business arrangements.

Since that time, Lake Point lawyers have been doing everything they can to be both obnoxious and expensive in hopes that the three defendants will give up and let them do whatever they want.

Lake Point claims that it is exempt from County rules because it is an agent of the SFWMD. They have cost taxpayers from Martin County and the SFWMD a great deal of money. They are continuing to do so.

It has turned into a lose-lose situation.

Maggy Hurchalla 

Trucane appears to have sold to George Blakely, the owner of the Boston Ritz Carlton for  $13,000 an acre in 2005.

Then the SFWMD offerred Blakely  $30,000 ac acre, but backed off.

Then BC Properties paid $29,000 an acre for phase I. BC properties is located at the same address as George Lindemann, Jr.'s many LLC's https://opencorporates.com/officers/ lists GEORGE JR LINDEMANN, agent,  LAKE POINT FF LLC(Florida (US), 1 Mar 2008- )

DEVELOPER CAUGHT BETWEEN ROCKS AND A HORSE PLACE

Palm Beach Post, The (FL) - December 18, 2007

Author: JASON SCHULTZ, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Even though it has already been approved, a major polo-related housing development in western Martin County still faces a fight with slow-growth activists.

The developer of the 1,000-acre Lake Point Ranches project, in Port Mayaca near Lake Okeechobee, wants to amend his site plan to allow the mining of 2 million cubic yards of rock.

Martin County commissioners today will take up the request by Brad Scherer to alter the project, which consists of 20-acre lots marketed mostly to professional polo players and horse trainers.

POLO PROJECT AT LAKE O HAS BUYER

Palm Beach Post, The (FL) - January 21, 2008

Author: Eve Samples

Massachusetts developer and former Boston Ritz-Carlton owner Gerald Blakeley has found a taker for a big chunk of his western Martin County holdings - more than a year after the South Florida Water Management District backed off its plans to buy the land.

Miami-based BC Property Investments paid Blakeley $29.57 million this month for 1,006 acres at the edge of Lake Okeechobee and south of State Road 76, records filed in Martin County show.

BC Property is owned by Jud Laird, an investor who has upgraded office space in Miami.

Laird's company intends to move forward with a polo-related development known as LakePointRanches , which has been approved for the site, BC Property spokeswoman Susan Ainsworth said.

In May, the Martin County Commission gave the green light for 40 residential lots and four polo fields there. Last month, the board agreed to let 2 million cubic yards of rock be mined on the property.

"This kind of project would be something new for them," Ainsworth said of the polo community.

Blakeley, who bought the 1,006 acres for $13 million in April 2005, turned a handy profit on the sale. But the water management district deal he lost out on would have been even more lucrative.

The district proposed buying the LakePointRanches land, plus another 1,264 acres that Blakeley owned nearby, for $68.1 million in 2006 -- even though it had no firm plans for the property. It reversed course late that year, conceding that the money might be better spent on projects such as protecting the Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake O.

Eve Samples covers Treasure Coast business. Contact her at The Palm Beach Post, 2101 S. Kanner Highway, Stuart, Fla. 34994; call (772) 223-3559; or e-mail eve_samples@pbpost.com.

 Lake Point sues Martin County in dispute over mining operation     

George Andreassi       Feb 8, 2013

The Martin County Growth Management Department has issued a notice of violation on Feb. 4 to the owners of the Lake Point project accusing them of violating several county development regulations.

Lake Point Phase 1: 1,000 acres

Excavation outside approved area

Unauthorized filling of ditches and leveling of berms

No required erosion control devices and preserve area barricades

Unauthorized cattle grazing and mowing in preserve areas

No required preserve area monitoring reports

Lake Point Phase 2: 1,200 acres

Unpermitted mining activity

Zoning does not allow mining

A two-month investigation by The Stuart News published in December uncovered that Lake Point Restoration officials and American Water are considering a partnership so they can sell up to 35 million gallons of water a day from Lake Okeechobee via the St. Lucie Canal to utilities in Palm Beach County by sending the water down the L-8 Canal. Lake Point could eventually be considered a public stormwater management project that is exempt from Martin County's strict land development regulations and permitting process, except for county mining rules.

What: Lake Point Ranches agricultural subdivision and Lake Point Restoration stormwater treatment project

Address: 25818 S.W. Kanner Highway, Port Mayaca

Location: South of the St. Lucie Canal, west of the DuPuis Management Area, north of the Palm Beach County line and about a mile east of Lake Okeechobee,

Total site size: 2,200 acres

Lake Point Ranches size: 1,000 acres

Duration of mining operation: 20 years

Maximum lake depth: 20 feet

Stormwater management lakes: 920 acres

Stormwater treatment areas: 600 acres

Created wetlands: 114 acres

Martin County recreation area: 150 acres

Lake Point Ranches site plan: 44 ranchettes ranging from 20 to 50 acres

WEST PALM BEACH — The dispute between Martin County and the massive Lake Point rock mine near Lake Okeechobee has escalated into a lawsuit.

     In papers served on Martin County on Friday afternoon, the company accuses the county of breaking an agreement to allow rock mining on the 2,200-acre Lake Point property and interfering with a $1.5 million-plus effort to transfer drinking water to West Palm Beach and other utilities.

     The suit filed Tuesday in Circuit Court in Palm Beach County asks a state judge to rule that Lake Point qualifies as a Public Works Project that is exempt from Martin County's development rules.

     It was filed a day after Martin County issued a notice of violation accusing Lake Point of breaking several county development rules, including excavating beyond the approved mining area.

     County Growth Management officials ordered Lake Point to immediately stop excavating where mining is not permitted, submit a restoration plan within 30 days and finish restoring the property with in 180 days.

     The Martin County commissioners raised concerns about whether the Lake Point deal would benefit the environment or the county during a discussion on Tuesday with top officials from the South Florida Water Management District.

     Lake Point's lawsuit claims the code enforcement actions and commissioners' statements amounted to a breach of its 2008 agreement with Martin County and the water management district. The suit also names the district as a defendant.

     The agreement calls for Lake Point to donate more than 2,000 acres to the water management district for use as a stormwater management facility in exchange for the right to mine rocks from the property for 20 years. Under the deal, Martin County would receive a 150-acre tract on Kanner Highway for a county recreation area.

     "We absolutely disagree that we are in violation of anything," said Honey Rand, a spokeswoman for Lake Point.

    "It's really sad that the situation has come to this, and we're really very, very sorry about it," Rand said. "But, nonetheless, it's absolutely essential that Lake Point gets a fair hearing and it looks as if the only place that, that can happen is at the courts."

    The Lake Point property is in southwestern Martin County, near Lake Okeechobee and the St. Lucie Canal. Water management district officials say the stormwater treatment project would help reduce the flow of polluted water into the St. Lucie Estuary.

    Randy Smith, a spokesman for the water management district, said district officials are reviewing the lawsuit and declined further comment.

    Martin County Commission Chairwoman Sarah Heard, the leading critic of the Lake Point deal, said the lawsuit was the first public record she's seen indicating Lake Point and district officials have been working on a water supply project for the past year.

    "The development agreement between Martin County and Lake Point is in full effect, though Lake Point is in violation of some of its requirements," Heard said.

    Lake Point originally received Martin County approval for a 1,000-acre equestrian subdivision in 2007 and later received approval to excavate up to 2.6 million cubic yards of rock — about 144,000 dump truck loads — to create lakes, county records show.

    In 2008, the Martin County Commission approved the deal for Lake Point to turn over the 2,200-acre property to the water management district in exchange for the right to mine rocks for 20 years.

    The agreement said the project would be exempt from county land development regulations and revert to Lake Point if authorities halt the mining operation for more than 120 days.

    However, the Martin County Commission has not yet approved a Jan. 2 request by Lake Point to convert the project from the equestrian subdivision into the stormwater treatment facility.

    The Lake Point deal came under greater scrutiny in late 2012 after Martin County voters elected two new commissioners who shifted the balance of power on the board to a majority that was much more skeptical about growth and development.

     "We don't understand how two months ago this was a great project and everybody was on board and suddenly two months later it appears as if we're something entirely different," Rand said. "It just doesn't make sense to us. So, some how, whether it's in the court or otherwise, these issues need to be straightened out."

 

Editorial: Lake Point restoration project illustrates folly of Martin County entering into decades-long agreements

Feb 17, 2013   Editorials

The Lake Point Restoration project is a cautionary tale for current and future Martin County commissions.

Specifically, county officials should be cautious about entering into decades-long agreements.

Lengthy agreements tie the hands of future commissions that may find fault with a project and disagree with the perceived benefits of such a project to the county. Moreover, the issues one commission deems important — and negotiates into a long-term deal — may change over time and become insignificant, even irrelevant, 10, 15, 20 years in the future.

The drawbacks of a decades-long agreement between the county and a private company are currently on display with respect to the Lake Point Restoration project, a rock mining operation on the 2,200-acre Lake Point property near Lake Okeechobee in southwestern Martin County.

In 2008, the County Commission approved a deal allowing Lake Point to mine rocks on the property for 20 years — after which ownership of most of the property would revert to the South Florida Water Management District. A stormwater treatment facility would then be constructed to clean runoff flowing into the St. Lucie River.

At a recent commission meeting, Commission Chair Sarah Heard questioned the environmental benefits of the project.

"No benefit is going to accrue to anybody until the 35 million additional cubic yards (nearly 2 million dump truck loads) of rocks are mined out and then maybe there will be a restoration project, or maybe not," Heard said.

It's a legitimate concern.

The county cited Lake Point for several alleged code violations, including excavating beyond the approved mining area, backfilling ditches and leveling berms in wetland buffers and preserve areas.

One day after the county issued its notice of violation, the company filed a lawsuit, accusing the county of breaking the agreement to allow rock mining on the property and interfering with a $1.5 million-plus effort to transfer drinking water to West Palm Beach and other utilities.

"We absolutely disagree that we are in violation of anything," said Honey Rand, a spokeswoman for Lake Point.

The Lake Point restoration project is getting messy — and most likely will be settled by the courts.

County officials should make a rule: Don't tie the hands of future commissions by signing decades-long agreements like the one the county has with Lake Point. 

Lake Point sues Maggy Hurchalla claiming 'false statements' interfering with rock mine, stormwater project

George Andreassi, Feb 26, 2013

  Lake Point's lawsuit claims environmentalist Maggy Hurchalla made several false statements about the rock mine and proposed stormwater treatment facility. Below are selected examples:

MH: The project has been "fast tracked and allowed to violate the rules."

LP: False. Lake Point has acted pursuant to duly executed contracts and permits (involving) state and federal agencies. ... There has been no "fast tracking" or violation of rules.

MH: "The new plan for the ‘Public Works Project' destroys 60 acres of wetlands."

LP: False. No existing wetlands are being destroyed.

MH: "There was no public knowledge of any plan, concept or idea that required purchase of the Lake Point property."

LP: False. The contract along with the necessary approvals were the subject of the normal public notice requirements. Many public hearings occurred in which the "plans, concepts, and ideas" were discussed.

MH: "There is no discussion of the fact that mining seems to be taking place immediately adjacent to wetlands."

LP: False. The South Florida Water Management District, Florida Department of Environmental Protection and Army Corps of Engineers permits contemplate and discuss mining adjacent to wetlands.

STUART — The Lake Point rock mine filed a lawsuit against Maggy Hurchalla claiming she made false statements in an attempt to kill a deal that would transfer the 2,000-acre property to a state agency and allow mining for 20 years.

     "Hurchalla is singling out Lake Point and is attempting to put Lake Point out of business," the suit claims.

     The complaint filed Feb. 20 in Circuit Court in Martin County asks a judge to order Hurchalla, a well-known environmentalist and former county commissioner, to retract statements plaintiffs claim are false and stop interfering with Lake Point's business.

     Located in southeastern Martin County near Lake Okeechobee, Lake Point is the largest rock mine in Martin County.

    A prior Martin County Commission majority signed off on a deal in 2009 in which Lake Point would donate its property to the South Florida Water Management District in exchange for the right to continue mining for 20 years.

     Lake Point has been working with several government agencies on plans to redevelop its property into a stormwater treatment facility that would improve the quality of the water flowing into the St. Lucie Estuary and provide a new source of drinking water to Palm Beach County.

     Lake Point's suit claims Hurchalla made "false statements of material fact" in an effort to convince the new "slow growth" Martin County Commission majority to scrap the deal.

     Lake Point's suit claims Hurchalla falsely stated "the project has been ‘fast tracked and allowed to violate the rules.'"

    The suit also claims Hurchalla falsely stated the project "destroys 60 acres of wetlands."

    In addition, the suit claims Hurchalla falsely stated "There was no public knowledge of any plan, concept or idea that required purchase of the Lake Point property."

     Lake Point's suit says the project has followed the rules, has not destroyed wetlands, and has met normal public notice requirements.

    Hurchalla could not immediately be reached for comment.

     A spokeswoman for Lake Point, Honey Rand, said, "No one wants to be in this position, but Maggie's false statements have had a material impact on Lake Point's business operation, costing time and money and harming the reputation of the project and the owners."

     Lake Point has also filed suit against Martin County claiming the county breached its agreements to allow the continuation of the mining operation and the development of the stormwater treatment facility.

     The commissioners were discussing their legal strategy Tuesday afternoon in a private session with the county's legal staff.

     A two-month investigation by The Stuart News published in December uncovered that Lake Point Restoration officials and American Water are considering a partnership so they can sell up to 35 million gallons of water a day from Lake Okeechobee via the St. Lucie Canal to utilities in Palm Beach County by sending the water down the L-8 Canal.

    Lake Point could eventually become a public stormwater management project controlled by the South Florida Water Management District that is exempt from Martin County's strict land development regulations and permitting process, except for county mining rules.

     A "reverter" clause would enable Lake Point to keep 1,800 acres of property designated for donation to the water management district if authorities halt the mining operation for more than 120 days.


Developer’s SLAPP suit seeks to silence Maggy Hurchalla

Feb 28th, 2013    By Post Staff  

  The SLAPP — Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation — is nothing new in Martin County and on the Treasure Coast. Still, it is a shock that the developers of the Lake Point rock mines last week targeted environmentalist Maggy Hurchalla, demanding she retract what she has said to Martin commissioners in public meetings and e-mails criticizing the mining operation.

by Sally Swartz

   “It’s definitely a SLAPP suit,” Ms. Hurchalla’s lawyer Virginia Sherlock said, “The purpose is not to win, but to shut Maggy up and scare others. She has done nothing wrong.”

   The lawsuit alleges Ms. Hurchalla, a former county commissioner and court-recognized expert on Martin’s protective growth plan, made false statements about Lake Point to try to kill a deal its developers made with the last county commission majority.

   The 2009 deal gives Lake Point the right to mine its 2,200 acre property for 20 years. Then it would create a storm water treatment area to clean water flowing into the St. Lucie River, and to provide drinking water for West Palm Beach. The rock mine is located in southeast Martin County near Lake Okeechobee.

   Developers of the mine contributed to the campaigns of current Commissioner Doug Smith($9,000) and former commissioners Ed Ciampi ($9,000) and Patrick Hayes ($7,000), the majority that approved the deal. Voters booted Mr. Hayes and Mr. Ciampi in the last election.

   The deal includes a contract between the county and the South Florida Water Management District that claims Lake Point is exempt from local regulations.

   Along with Ms. Hurchalla, Lake Point also is suing Martin County and the water management district.

   The SLAPP suit claims Ms. Hurchalla “is singling out Lake Point” and trying to put it out of business and that the project has followed the rules, hasn’t destroyed wetlands and has met public notice requirements.

  Ms. Hurchalla has made no comment on the lawsuit.

   Criticizing government is, of course, a constitutional right. A SLAPP is not filed with the intent to go trial but to intimidate people, to scare them and to shut them up. The idea is that when the defendants have to spend money on lawyers and endure the stress of a lawsuit, protests will end.

   But residents, Ms. Sherlock said, “have the right to petition the government for redress of grievances. Comments and communications with elected officials are very highly protected. The idea you should get sued for speaking out is mind-boggling.”

   Ms. Sherlock said she will seek to have the suit dismissed.

   Past SLAPPs in Martin and St. Lucie include a long battle between Pitchford Landing developer Bill Reilly and members of the Jensen Beach group that settled after residents filed a “SLAPP-back” suit accusing Mr. Reilly of malicious prosecution. The county commission approved a smaller version of Pitchford’s Landing, which remains unbuilt.

  Another suit harassed critics of the now-dead Walton Road bridge to Hutchinson Island in St. Lucie County before it was dropped. Another targeted former Martin commissioner Donna Melzer for her views on careful growth with a lawsuit involving a recycling firm. Plaintiffs dropped it before it went to court.

   In the early 1990s, then-state attorney-general Bob Butterworth urged the Legislature to join about half the states in the U.S. that ban SLAPPs. Florida’s anti-SLAPP laws protect residents from government lawsuits and apply to homeowners in a homeowners’ association. But they don’t cover developers that sue residents to silence them and scare others.

   Ms. Sherlock has proposed legislation that quickly would force plaintiffs before a judge. The suit couldn’t proceed if it only is an attack on First Amendment Rights.

   But finding a lawmaker willing to push the legislation has been difficult. Local legislators continually have dodged the issue and made excuses, even though so many SLAPPs have targeted Martin and Treasure Coast residents.

   Now in her 70s, Ms. Hurchalla is working with county growth officials, residents, developers and business representatives — for free — to repair and update the growth plan. The goal: Fix changes developer-friendly commissions have made and craft a stronger plan to protect the county after the state, under Gov. Rick Scott, weakened growth management.

   Suing a Martin icon may prove problematic for Lake Point. Even those who disagree with her respect Ms. Hurchalla’s efforts to preserve the county’s quality of life. And most would agree that she, more than any other individual, is responsible for the Martin County “difference.”

   For those who love living in green Martin, where buildings aren’t taller than four stories, homes aren’t crowded into tiny spaces, and residents know ibis, gopher tortoises and manatees as well as their human neighbors, that’s powerful.

Sally Swartz is a former member of The Post Editorial Board. Her e-mail address is   sdswartz42@comcast.net


Lake Point mine sues environmentalist

March 4, 2013  Stuart News

By George Andreassi george.andreassi@scripps.com

STUART — The Lake Point rock mine filed a lawsuit against Maggy Hurchalla claiming she made false statements in an attempt to kill a deal that would transfer the 2,000-acre property to a state agency and allow mining for 20 years.

     “Hurchalla is singling out Lake Point and is attempting to put Lake Point out of business,” the suit claims.

     The complaint filed Feb. 20 in Circuit Court in Martin County asks a judge to order Hurchalla, a well-known environmentalist and former county commissioner, to retract statements plaintiffs claim are false and stop interfering with Lake Point’s business.

     Located in southeastern Martin County near Lake Okeechobee, Lake Point is the largest rock mine in Martin County.

    A prior Martin County Commission majority signed off on a deal in 2009 in which Lake Point would donate its property to the South Florida Water Management District in exchange for the right to continue mining for 20 years.

    Lake Point has been working with several government agencies on plans to redevelop its property into a stormwater treatment facility that would improve the quality of the waterflowing into the St. Lucie Estuary and provide a new source of drinking water to Palm Beach County.

     Lake Point’s suit claims Hurchalla made “false statements of material fact” in an effort to convince the new “slow growth” Martin County Commission majority to scrap the deal.

    Lake Point’s suit claims Hurchalla falsely stated “the project has been ‘fast tracked and allowed to violate the rules.’” The suit also claims Hurchalla falsely stated the project “destroys 60 acres of wetlands.”

    In addition, the suit claims Hurchalla falsely stated, “There was no public knowledge of any plan, concept or idea that required purchase of the Lake Point property.”

    Lake Point’s suit says the project has followed the rules, has not destroyed wetlands and has met normal public notice requirements.

    Hurchalla referred questions to her lawyers, who could not immediately be reached for comment.

    A spokeswoman for Lake Point, Honey Rand, said, “No one wants to be in this position, but Maggie’s false statements have had a material impact on Lake Point’s business operation, costing time and money and harming the reputation of the project and the owners.”

    Lake Point also has filed suit against Martin County claiming the county breached its agreements to allow the continuation of the mining operation and the development of the stormwater treatment facility.

     The commissioners were discussing their legal strategy Tuesday afternoon in a private session with the county’s legal staff.