39 Comments
Nancy Smith

Martin County's Bad Attitude Toward Business Should Terrify Taxpayers

July 26, 2016 - 12:15pm

Martin County richly earns its reputation as the most business-unfriendly county in Florida.

Playing hardball and creating a hostile atmosphere for companies that show up to boost the economy has been going on for years in this Treasure Coast county where the motto is "Enjoy Our Good Nature."

I bring this up now because Martin's no-growth commission majority just pulled another fast one on a company, this one a genuine gift horse, and frankly it defies all sense of logic.

Doesn't anybody down there in paradise think about the taxpayers?  

It's not enough that Martin is still smarting over the loss of tax revenue from its algae-choked, $187 million marine and $118 million hospitality industries.

Last week the commission chased out a biomass electric generating plant proposed for the Indiantown industrial area -- an operation that would have made it the second largest taxpayer in the county. It just didn't want to stick around any longer to play Martin's games.

We're talking about a huge fumble here.

William F. Quinn, president and CEO of Jupiter-based U.S. EcoGen LLC said Martin's "carbon-neutral, state-of-the-art, renewable energy facility would create hundreds of temporary construction jobs and about 160 permanent energy- and agriculture-related jobs; become one of the highest paying tax generators in Martin County; and create new opportunities to use fallow citrus land to grow energy crops in the form of sustainably harvested eucalyptus plantations."

EcoGen had strong community support, too, particularly Indiantown's.

Annually, EcoGen would have provided $450,000 in tax revenue, $20.5 million in output sales (money put back into the community) and $6.7 million in payroll.

Notice I said would have.

It won't now.

EcoGen won over four of five county commissioners in a request to swap adjacent 78-acre land parcels so the company could grow its trees on agriculturally zoned land instead of under power lines zoned "public energy transmission."  Four of five. That kind of agreement is practically unheard of in this county.  

Alas, EcoGen's request fell victim to Martin's unelected shadow government, led by former Martin County Commissioner Maggy Hurchalla and attorney Virginia Sherlock. And despite the commissioners' original enthusiasm, county staff recommended denial and all commissioners but Anne Scott followed like lemmings.

In case you haven't guessed, not much county business gets done in Martin without Hurchalla and Sherlock's approval. Both were circling like sharks from very early on. Have a look at their letters in public comments posted on the county website. 

On July 21 Quinn wrote to County Commission Chairwoman Scott: "... The volatile political climate in Martin County has forced us to reconsider the continued investment of our time and resources. ... I am notifying the commission that we are withdrawing our application and have terminated development activities on the EcoGen Martin project."

He particularly referenced Hurchalla's influence on the process. "Staff provided copies of emails from Maggy Hurchalla and other private citizens whose input and recommendations to the commission majority seem to weigh heavily on their decision-making. The emails ... made it apparent that local politics could very likely undermine the project."

On top of that, Sherlock ally and County Commission candidate Donna Melzer was campaigning  as "the only person who pointed out that the (EcoGen) proposal was outside the urban boundary (contrary to the Comp Plan) and could lead to costly urban sprawl.  NOW, STAFF and LPA AGREE ,"  Melzer wrote.

Costly urban sprawl? In Indiantown?

Under a time constraint to meet a deadline, Quinn and other company officials couldn't see a future in continuing. The deck was stacked against them. 

Read Quinn's letter for yourself in the attachment below. He tells the story.

I'm sorry for Martin taxpayers. I see EcoGen just like public commenter Steven Swann, who called it, "an opportunity to help intelligent growth in western Martin County."

Why wouldn't county commissioners see that?

Would it have killed them to be reasonable in the interest of common sense? Think what was at stake.  Think about 160 permanent jobs. EcoGen was asking to start the Comp Plan amendment process six months early so it could honor a contract. Unusual, maybe, but certainly doable for a valuable new industry most Martin Countians will never see, hear or smell. 

Indiantown is 20 miles west of Stuart. It is home to less than 4 percent of Martin's population yet provides 16 percent of its ad valorem taxes. It is the ideal place for heavy industry. Pure and simple, it's a tucked-away economic engine that bothers virtually no one.

About once every 10 years beginning in the 1970s, the Indiantown industrial area has welcomed a new industry to the area: Florida Power & Light Co. (Martin's largest taxpayer), Caulkins juice plant (now Louis Dreyfus Citrus), Indiantown Cogeneration, Bay State Milling and Tampa Farm Service (owned by Cal-Maine, Publix's largest source of eggs). EcoGen would have been the next. And the Indiantown community would have blessed the day.

Sadly, FPL is alleged to be close to a buyout and subsequent shutdown, of Indiantown Cogeneration.  If that happens, taxpayers will take another bath. Double bubble.

EcoGen was a prize. Now Martin County will have to watch it rise and enrich another county.

I hope Martin government, shadow or otherwise, proved its point.

Reach Nancy Smith at nsmith@sunshinestatenews.com or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith

Comments

Isn't Maggie Hurchalla synonymous with Jupiter Island? Jupiter Island has the lifeboat mentality once I'm in there's no room for anyone else.

Looks like the only thing being built in Martin County is assisted living facilities.

Not so fast, in a recent meeting Commissioner Heard objected to an AL application saying there were too many and we were creating a bubble. If they keep going at this rate Martin County will be known as Gods waiting room.

Let's protest against Maggy. Indiantown should not be a low life town we demand oportunities

How stupid the leaders on Marting Country could be indiantown need progress to attract hier paying jobs I bet non of them live in Indiantown

Being familiar with and having worked in the "clean/renewable" energy field, the EcoGen plan is suspect at best. With oil below $80 per barrel, alternate energy generation, with out government subsidization, doe not work financially. Forget all the hype about low emission, etc.. This is a business and if it isn't profitable then it isn't worth pursuing. Also, all I hear is how Martin County needs jobs, and business to grow the tax base. Why? Martin County is desirable for the very fact that there is slow to no growth. With growth comes population increase, additional infrastructure needs, congestion, higher taxes, the list goes on and on. I've seen very desirable places destroyed because it was deemed necessary for growth to take place. Places like Phoenix, Scottsdale, Los Angles, Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Kansas City. This list too is endless. Witness the number of empty big box buildings and store fronts along US 1. How's that growth working out? Look at Port St. Lucie and their quest for growth and what it got them. Almost bankrupt! Growth at any expense. Ain't it great? Instead of this continual mantra about bringing growth to our community, how about a more conservative and responsible use of our tax dollars? Lets reenergize existing business within our city boundary's, make it easy for small business to exist within our County. We do not need nor do we want more development and sprawl. What you champion Nancy is just that.

I agree. I rely on industrial growth for my company. However, there has to be a calculated and well thought out sustainable plan to grow the economy. Do we need to be a place where retirement homes are the main attraction? NO! But manufacturers for such industries like aerospace, automotive, or even agriculture equipment would be a better option. For us to become a Dade, Palm Beach county should be entirely out of the picture. We should be different, and that includes the industries we bring in.

Don.. I have a question for you and trust me this is not in any way intended to be a confrontational question... I'm trying to understand your point of view. When you say Martin County which areas or cities do you reference? Most people think of Stuart, Jensen Beach, Rio,and Hutchinson Island including Sewells Point. Did you know Indiantown is part of Martin County? It's a very different area than what I believe you're referring to in the Martin County Landscape. And my second question is are you a year-round resident?

My family has been in Indiantown since 1917. With the Indiantown cogeneration facility facing closure in the next few years wouldn't this plant have been a blessing to the displaced work force from the cogeneration facility as well as the rest of the county. But alas old Maggie wouldn't have it. In the spirit of her anti growth policies I would like all of her ilk who moved into my County after 1925 to leave. We are the original residents of Martin County and never invited or approved her residence in our county. What a shamed for the residents of my home county to miss this as well as many other opportunities because of a curmudgeon who doesn't have a clue what is good for Martin County.

Did anybody read Hurchalla and Sherlock's attached letters? Perhaps U.S. EcoGen LLC should have hired an attorney who was schooled in land use. U.S. EcoGen LLC's applications were incomplete. The commissioners had no choice but to deny this company.

Chatles...where can I find the letters and application? Would love to read them. Thanks#

Its highlighted in the story

This isn't about taxpayers. It's not about "sprawl". It's certainly not about the environment. It's about Martin County's war on the non-retired, the people who want and need jobs but who benefit from change and growth - the two things the County's elite hates. Indiantown has the worst poverty levels in Martin County. It desperately needs development and businesses like this. It's not some pristine environmental utopia either, it's a collapsing city full of derelict buildings and the barest of facilities. Word this in terms of taxpayers if you feel it'll encourage more opposition, but this isn't just about taxes. It's time to accept that the "No Growth" candidates are acting against the interests of pretty much every hard wording working and middle class resident, seeing us as a nuisance, and acting maliciously when it comes to projects that promote our interests.

Isn't Martin the county that is supposed to be home of so many environmentalists? What is the good of us talking up opportunities for entrepreneurs introducing us to new green industries if we are not going to welcome them in our communities? I guess Martin County isn't so environment minded as I was led to believe.

NIMBYs, not environmentalists. They fight some legitimate concerns such as clean water, but... it's a county defined by sprawl and opposition to transit. You can't get more anti-environment than those Martin County policies.

Wow -- I'm glad I don't live in Martin County. Politicians with no backbone or thoughts of their own, being led by a few overly connected people with a lot of influence. This is what happens when government goes amok.

One can hardly believe the commissioners are republicans. They stand for big government and are anti business, anti property rights and are anti everything. The should have done anything possible to make the eco-gen deal work.

Mistake 1, they are NOT and have NEVER been against ANY business! GO TRUMP!!

The biggest problem here in Martin County is that the residents are uninformed. The local paper does NOT report sufficiently. Nor does it prioritize the news properly. So, we also have a lot of snowbirds who only care that everything in the county is as it was when they left. And, we have a lot of those who listen to the false "no-growth" narrative which is nothing but a scare tactic so the majority on the commission can maintain control. What is NOT going on in I-town borders on immoral in my opinion. I strongly suggest that everyone start reading The Martin County Currents which you can get on line or in many public libraries and other public venues. The newest issue is out now.

Currents and TCPalm both have editors that are members of Martin County's anti-growth elite. I've yet to see a Martin County publication that's willing to properly the effects of no-growth upon Martin County's ordinary - non retired, non rich - residents.

Mr. Harrison, my name is Barbara Clowdus, the editor and publisher of Martin County Currents. Being called "a member of Martin County's anti-growth elite" is a first for me, although I certainly am used to being called lots of other names. You are accurate that I do believe that growth should be measured and thoughtful, and that the overall goals of ensuring the best possible quality of life for all citizens as outlined by our Comprehensive Growth Management Plan should be followed; however, I believe common sense is the compass point most lacking in Martin County. EcoGen made sense for Martin County on many levels, and I am dismayed that just a handful people hold such power over the lives of so many. Please subscribe to Martin County Currents at www.MartinCountyCurrents.com, and I believe that you'll find that this publication presents the other side of the story in Martin County.

Hi Ms Clowdus, I appreciate the reply. And yes, I appreciate you have, from time to time, criticized many community leaders. But the "Martin County Elite" I'm referring to is not a single group, it has its own fights within it. It's still, fundamentally, a group of largely wealthy people who are more concerned about keeping Martin to some ill defined ideal than letting the county serve our residents. The big eye-opening issue for me, for example, was our approach to AAF and the kneejerk opposition that took over every facet of local politics despite it being a project widely supported among the people I know. While we were looking at more jobs, less traffic on I-95 (which anti-growth has forced too many of us to use every morning), long needed noise improvements, and eventually the hope that we might get alternatives to driving here, the entire establishment circled the drain, promoting ridiculous conspiracy theories and promoting scare stories. When I looked into it, the real underlying cause was that the people who have time to engage in commission meetings, who run the local media, who are wealthy enough to gain the ear of local politicians, etc, were by and large either partially or wholly signed up to idea that change here would "ruin" Martin. When I've read Currents, I've seen the better side of that establishment, but it's still fundamentally unable to break with the central tenets of that agenda. We need more jobs up here. I was laid off in 2010, and have had to commute to Palm Beach ever since. I have a family to support, and honestly, it feels like the local government and local media wants people like me to leave. Yet I'd be surprised if people like me weren't in the majority in this county.

Nancy, there you go again. The voters voted for them, deal. Fla counties got along fine with low density, low taxes as little to spend it on. Now you are mad because they don't want to grow which has excellent things gooing for it. It is your desire to corporate everything that has lead to the algae problem for instance. The same people who just raised the amount of poisons they can dump in the water and won't make big sugar, ag, corporations stop polluting you keep shilling, voting for .

Nope everything you wrote it wrong. Martin County has zero dollars to pay their teachers, fire fighters, and police officers due to the very little taxes that they pull (seeing as snow birds only want residential properties in Martin County). Having businesses, such as the agricultural business that wanted to move here, would have benefited everyone but once again our backwards thinking county is too afraid of having any business that can generate revenues, sales and jobs for our *dying* community (I only say dying due to the old retired people that flock down here in droves and demand the growth stops once they arrive).

As usual, Nancy, you are right on target. Unfortunately for Martin County, the puppeteers are at work and the puppets are dancing! The three harpies, Maggy, Donna & Ginny rule! I'm sick to death of all the scare tactics used on Martin County voters. They're still chanting about threats to the 4 story height limit and that "business" is a four letter word.

...and it's been going on for a long time. We tried to bring the Houston Astros here for Spring training back in 1983 but Hurchalla and the harpies she had with her then succeeded in getting voters to kill a proposed bed tax on short term rentals, motel and hotel fees which would have made it possible.

And, unfortunately, the voters are dancing right with the dirt bag puppets! Why can't voters EVER realize just how badly they're being played? GO TRUMP!!

It's about "smart" productive, less impact business. Martin County knows it doesn't need all business.

I agree with you. Let Martin County stay as it is.

You can add Del Monte Foods to the list as well.

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nancy smith
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