Posted: 8:00 a.m. Sunday, June 10, 2012
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
The Putnam deal is an example of land acquisition practices by the South Florida Water Management District that have recently come under scrutiny after complaints of cronyism and overspending. The district has spent nearly $2 billion buying land for restoration projects in recent years and the consequences of those practices are being felt as the district ponders what to do with land, such as the Putnams’, that it bought at top dollar and doesn’t need.
In April, Executive Director Melissa Meeker asked for an audit of district land not needed for “mission-critical” purposes. The district could sell the land at a loss, trade for land it needs, lease it for a small profit or let it sit vacant — which means spending more money to take care of it.
Whatever it decides, the district must also contend with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, whose skepticism about district spending has threatened the district’s ability to receive credits for acquisition costs.
As for the Putnam deal, although the district paid $25 million for the land, it could only seek credit for $6 million from the Corps — the value of the 600 acres it actually needed for its restoration project.
Palm Beach Post Reporter Christine Stapleton began digging into the South Florida Water Management District’s real estate practices in 2011 after learning of the district’s policy of leasing thousands of acres of public land without competitive bidding.
To compile this installment in The Post’s ongoing investigation, Stapleton reviewed tens of thousands of emails, appraisals, financial disclosure reports, audits, contracts and maps. She used social media, such as Facebook and Linkedin, to develop sources and analyzed data and dozens of spreadsheets.
Among the findings from earlier stories :