Are taxpayers getting shorted on $15M deal?

Posted at 11:32 PM, Apr 11, 2016

Our Contact 5 Investigators look into a multi-million dollar deal involving taxpayer money.

In 2006, Palm Beach County forked over $15 million to preserve public access to the waterfront at Sailfish Marina on Singer Island.

The county paid to declare a 415-foot strip of waterfront at Sailfish Marina public indefinitely.

Now, Contact 5 has learned Sailfish Marina has plans that will reduce access for boaters, and Palm Beach County Commissioners say there's nothing they can do about it.      

"There's a lot of people that are concerned. A lot of people that have been here for a lot of years," said John Adams, a third generation boat captain.

He says someone in his family has had a boat at Sailfish Marina as long as he can remember but that may soon end, "There's going to be no more small slips so the public can't come in and rent a small slip anymore."

Contact 5 obtained a copy of a permit issued to Sailfish Marina by the Department of Environmental Protection. It shows Sailfish Marina plans to demolish its existing north dock, which has more than 30 boat slips, and replace it with a dock with just 12 slips to cater to much larger boats.

"When did the board of commissioners find out about this project?" asked Contact 5 Investigator Jared Werksma. "I heard about it probably four months ago," said Palm Beach County Vice Mayor Hal Valeche.  Valeche says that's when complaints started pouring into his office.

"The major concern is that we're going to lose a number of slips and that is going to happen," Valeche says. "And is the board of commissioners ok with that?" Werksma asked. Valeche answered, "Our legal department has determined that (Sailfish Marina is) within their rights to do what they're doing."

Valeche says the agreement between Sailfish Marina and the Palm Beach County Board of Commissioners signed in 2006 was intended to preserve public docks and boat slips, but doesn't specifically say what Sailfish Marina can or cannot do with existing docks.

"If we're hamstrung by the agreement that we signed, all we can do is sort of bemoan it," Valeche said.

But some are taking more drastic action. Contact 5 obtained a copy of a petition filed against Sailfish Marina and its owner, The Great American Life Insurance Company, by neighboring Buccaneer Condominiums. 

According to the DEP permit the new Sailfish Marina dock would be built some 30 feet north of its current position, or 30 feet closer to the boat dock at Buccaneer. Further narrowing an already tight area for boats at each dock to navigate in.

Owners from Buccaneer wouldn't provide a comment to Contact 5 but the petition filed by Buccaneer Condominiums with the DEP claims the new dock would create "unsafe boating conditions" and asks the DEP to "revoke the permit."

A manager from Sailfish Marina spoke with Contact 5 by phone on Monday evening shortly before the story aired and explained the marina is reworking its plans for a new dock to try and limit both public and private concerns that have been raised.

At this point the alternative plans still have only 12 boat slips, 19 fewer than the North Dock at Sailflish Marina currently has. Commissioner Valeche says he hopes for a public hearing to thoroughly discuss the issues.