‘Pahokee marina/campground ‘uninsurable,’ ERH claims

PAHOKEE — Due to emergency surgery last week, the principal partner in Everglades Reserves Holdings LLC missed a Pahokee City Commission meeting where the ERH contract with the city and state to operate the lakefront marina, restaurant and campground was to be reconsidered on June 9.

But that did not stop one commissioner from pressing for a vote to go forward with a revised sublease that calls for ERH to run the marina after accepting it in “as is” condition. Vice Mayor Clara Murvin’s motion died for lack of a second, however, when other commissioners disagreed with moving forward without a representative of the ERH partnership present.

The “as is” covenant is a 180-degree turn from the sublease drawn up by then-City Attorney Gary Brandenburg in October 2017. It contained a clause stating that the city promised to ensure the property, which Pahokee leases from the state, would be in “first class condition” when ERH took it over. The governor and cabinet OK’d the original sublease on Dec. 3, 2019. In a revised sublease drawn up by the that the ERH partners’ attorney said they received only on June 8, that covenant was missing, however, replaced by the “as is” clause.

This is important, said a letter from attorney Christopher D. Hale of Fort Lauderdale that was sent just hours before the commission met at 6:30 p.m. June 9, because the partners object to the change and say they would need more time for inspections of the property before making a decision.

His letter to the commission and current city attorney June 9 stated, “One of ERH’s principals, Robert F. Lambert, had surgery this morning to repair a detached retina in his eye” and thus would be unable to participate. “Additionally, my client and I wanted to discuss matters which we believe are directly germane to this matter,” Mr. Hale wrote.

Reached by telephone last week, Mr. Lambert confirmed that he had suffered a sudden loss of vision while driving that required immediate medical attention. He said Ms. Murvin had misunderstood, thinking he had made an appointment for the day of the meeting, which was not the case.

Mr. Hale’s letter noted the change in the state-prepared sublease, and went on to say: “It is indisputable that the premises are in considerable disrepair and hundreds of thousands of dollars are needed to make the premises operational, insurable, and in compliance with all applicable state, county and city laws and ordinances. We understand that the current condition of the property renders it uninsurable. Accordingly, ERH needs additional time to gain access to the premises for the purposes of allowing an insurer as well as a contractor and engineer to inspect the property to determine the extent and cost of the necessary repairs.”

The letter further states that if the city were unable or unwilling to pay for the necessary repairs and improvements, “ERH needs time to investigate the possibility of obtaining loans and/or grants to raise the necessary funds. For all of the above reasons, ERH requests that the consideration and/or vote on this sublease be postponed at this time in order that matters may be investigated in a orderly and thorough manner.”

The City of Pahokee had won grants totaling about $2.3 million over the past several years from the State of Florida to pay for extensive repairs and upgrades, yet by the time some of those projects were to have been completed or well under way, ERH wrote the city in September 2019 to list 35 portions of planned repair and improvement projects that had not been completed, in addition to several expenses incurred by the partners that were unreimbursed.

During the June 9 meeting, Mayor Keith Babb asked City Attorney Burnadette Norris-Weeks whether it was her legal opinion that the city commission already had given final approval of the sublease, saying he needed clarification.

She responded: “We’re at the point where the sublease agreement has not been approved yet by the commission, and, while you all have approved certain terms, my understanding is that the Everglades Reserves Holdings group is looking to change some of those things you’ve been talking about, and so as a result, you would need to reconsider the issues that you conceptually agreed upon previously, in order to move ahead to see whether there is a meeting of the minds.”

Then the mayor asked whether it was commissioners’ pleasure to move ahead on the lease despite the absence of an ERH representative, and Ms. Murvin made her motion. Not hearing a second, the mayor polled commissioners one by one to confirm that they were still on the teleconference call. Each replied, but there still was no second, so the mayor said any vote would be postponed until at least June 23, the date of their next meeting, so that Mr. Lambert and/or other partners could attend.

The Pahokee City Commission previously has given approval at least twice to entering into a sublease with ERH for the marina property, according to its own minutes of meetings. The concept had to be approved initially in order to negotiate with the partners back in 2017, and another vote was required before the sublease package was sent to the state for cabinet approval. The package consisted of the original agreement between the city and ERH, approved in September 2017 and signed Oct. 10 of that year; and the city’s Resolution 2018-15, which the commission approved in 2018 and affirmed again on Oct. 22, 2019. Those actions are reflected in official city commission minutes, which also were all approved by the city commissioners.

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