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Martin County to pay $12 million to settle lawsuit with Lake Point Restoration

Posted at 5:42 PM, Nov 14, 2017
and last updated 2017-11-14 18:49:34-05

A nearly five-year legal battle has been settled as Martin County Commissioners voted 4-1 Tuesday to pay a $12 million settlement to Lake Point Restoration.

"This is absolutely one the darkest days in Martin County government," said commission chair Doug Smith before the vote.

"Everything about this case was avoidable," said a frustrated commissioner Ed Ciampi.

The final cost to taxpayers though is likely to be even higher, possibly reaching $20 million when taking into account all the legal fees and other costs.

Just east of Lake Okeechobee near the Port Mayaca locks, Lake Point operates a rock quarry. A decade ago, the land was to be a polo-related housing development with some mining activity, but plans changed over time.

At one point, the company was planning to sell drinking water to Palm Beach County.

In 2013, the company sued Martin county, the South Florida Water Management District, and former county commissioner Maggy Hurchalla for breach of contract, saying the county interfered with its operations.

"We didn't do anything wrong," said commissioner Sarah Heard before the vote.

In 2014, Lake Point sued the county for violations of state public records law and won a half million dollars as an arbitrator ruled the county did not turn over requested public records.

Commissioner Sarah Heard is under scrutiny in this still-evolving possible criminal public records case. That case has been separated from the main Lake Point case settled Tuesday.

"This is nothing more than protecting the county and making a business decision," said commissioner Harold Jenkins before the vote.

The county plans to take out a loan to pay the settlement. As part of the deal, the county will get a 400 acre parcel of land for storm water treatment.

Part of the settlement also included an apology letter read by commission Chairman Smith. "It was entirely foreseeable that such words and deeds would lead to Lake Point initiating litigation against the county," read Smith.

In a statement, George Lindemann, a co-owner of Lake Point said, "This settlement clears the way for us to take dirty water from Lake O and the canal, keeping some of it from flowing to the estuary; clean it, and put it back into the system. We're glad to be moving forward."

As to the on-going criminal investigation into the handling of public records, the state attorney's office said it could not comment on an active investigation.