Maggy Hurchalla gets her (first) day in court

Martin County Currents

Released: Oct. 13, 2013

Maggy Hurchalla gets her (first) day in court

By Barbara Clowdus, Publisher

If attorneys for Martin County environmentalist Maggy Hurchalla
thought the Lake Point Restoration lawsuit against their client would
simply be dismissed under the U.S. Constitution’s first-amendment
protections of free speech, they found out otherwise Oct. 11 in the
Martin County courthouse before Circuit Judge James McCann.

Before the case ends, Commission Chair Sarah Heard also will be
implicated in claims by Lake Point that
Heard is attempting to either hide or has destroyed secret
communications with Hurchalla about the Lake Point rock mining
operation in southwestern Martin County.

Hurchalla’s attorney, Trey White of The Rock Law Group, argued
that Lake Point’s lawsuit was intended only to preclude Hurchalla’s
ability to communicate with her elected officials, and that
Hurchalla’s public criticism of Lake Point had been shared by others.

“In the legal realm,” White added, while arguing his motion to
dismiss the charges, “this is considered pure speech.”

McCann disagreed.

“If that’s the case, there would be no argument,²” the judge
said. “They’re alleging that Ms. Hurchalla did it in a way that’s
not fair, not right, and not protected.”

Therefore, the charge of tortious interference (interfering with
Lake Point’s contracts and ability to
conduct business) will stand until the case is settled or goes to
jury trial in Martin County, a change of venue from Palm Beach County
where the suit originally was filed.

The other claim against Hurchalla, which asked for injunctive
relief, was dismissed by Judge McCann, but he invited Lake Point
attorney Ethan Loeb of Tampa to resubmit that filing within the next
20 days “to make the court understand exactly from what you seek to
have injunctive relief from Ms. Hurchalla.”

The judge questioned whether Lake Point’s contract with Martin
County and with the South Florida Water Management District, against
which lawsuits also have been filed, have actually been breached, as
Lake Point contends, and if so, then how could any further damage be
done by Hurchalla, the judge asked.

Both points also were argued by Hurchalla’s attorney, who said he
intended to file an answer to Lake Point’s amended complaint
within 20 days.

In Lake Point’s first filing against Hurchalla on Feb. 20, Loeb
asked a judge to order Hurchalla to retract her statements,
particularly that Lake Point mining had destroyed 60 acres of
wetlands and that the operation was not in compliance with county

The suit contends that although Nikki van Vonno, director of the
Martin County Growth Management Department, stated that no wetlands
had been destroyed on the Lake Point property, Hurchalla continued to
claim their destruction in emails to Commission Chair Sarah Heard,
who in turn “parroted” those claims and others by Hurchalla in a
county commission meeting that ultimately resulted in code
enforcement action against Lake Point.

The county also sent a letter to the South Florida Water
Management District encouraging them to “dismantle” their
agreement with Lake Point.

“The county commission took action based on Ms. Hurchalla’s
false statements,” Loeb told the judge.

The Agreements

The Martin County Commission approved a final site plan in 2007
for an agricultural subdivision on the Lake Point Ranches Parcel of
approximately 1,000 acres of the 2,266-acre Lake Point site. As part
of the 2007 development order, the County authorized Lake Point to
excavate and haul approximately two million cubic yards of lime rock
from the subdivision.

The “Great Recession of 2008” precluded further development,
and an interlocal agreement signed among the county, Lake Point
officers and the South Florida Water Management District officials in
2009 changed the project’s direction to that of a stormwater
management and water treatment project.

Florida’s first public-private partnership for environmental
restoration, the Lake Point Restoration Project was made part of the
Northern Everglades Restoration Plan to benefit the Florida
Everglades, which exempted the property from the county’s land
development regulations, the suit contends.

About 10 percent of the water flowing from the C-44 canal would be
cleansed at Lake Point as a stormwater treatment area before entering
the St. Lucie, according to South Florida Water Management officials,
who agreed to take possession and manage the stormwater treatment
project after mining is completed in 20 years.

Lake Point obtained state mining permits from the Florida
Department of Environmental Protection, as well as the U.S. Army
Corps of Engineers. The suit also contends that the county agreed to
terminate the 2007 Development Order after Lake Point obtained those
permits; however, the county commission refused to authorize the
county staff to terminate the development order, an action allegedly
based on Hurchalla’s comments.

Missing emails

As part of the lawsuit, Lake Point also
requested all the emails from Commissioner Heard referencing
Lake Point from Heard’s private email account, since the commission
chair routinely conducted county business from her private computer.
Heard told the Lake Point attorneys that her private email account
had been “hacked,” and all her emails except those from the
previous three weeks had been deleted, according to court records.

Since her email had been a Yahoo, web-based account, the attorneys
contend, the emails still would have been recoverable, but their
efforts to recover them have been thwarted by Heard’s private
attorney, Scott Zappolo. Lake Point has asked that Judge McCann order
Commissioner Heard to sit for a deposition to explain the “missing”
emails, but no date for the deposition has yet been set.