Enough's Enough

Will the county risk Homestead's future on a no-win lawsuit? Find out on Tuesday.

Once the RFP is approved, it has to be advertised, not just locally but nationally, and an adequate amount of time provided for developers to prepare their proposals. The county will need to impanel a committee to review the submissions, rank them, and then present them to commissioners for consideration. The county also will need to negotiate a lease with the winning developer. That lease then must be discussed and approved by commissioners.

All this in 143 days.

Federal rules do allow for a single 60-day extension of the application period, but that is at the discretion of the air force. Even with an extension, the timetable will be tight. Let's not forget this is the same county government that took more than five years to put together an RFP for something as trivial as wrapping airport luggage in plastic.

Naughty boy: Steve Shiver is withholding critical information from commissioners
Steve Satterwhite
Naughty boy: Steve Shiver is withholding critical information from commissioners

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Read related New Times Steve Shiver stories

If the county truly wants to spark economic development in South Miami-Dade, it must concentrate all its efforts on the EDC application. Shiver claims county officials are working on the application, but with more than 30 days already run off the clock, there's little to show for the effort.

Make no mistake, if county commissioners decide to continue the lawsuit, they will endanger the entire conveyance. For one thing they risk further alienating air force officials, the very people who will accept or reject the county's application for the land. In addition few developers will spend the money to create a proposal if the property's future is clouded by a lawsuit. The county's own attorney, Robert Cuevas, argued before Judge Friedman that such uncertainty needed to be resolved quickly. The judge scoffed at that reasoning. "To the extent that the litigation has created uncertainty," he wrote, "the county itself has helped create that uncertainty by initiating the litigation." In other words if the lawsuit screws up the chances for the county to develop the land under an EDC, it will have no one to blame but itself.

The only party unequivocally committed to keeping the lawsuit alive is HABDI, the politically influential company that was handed a no-bid deal to develop the base as an airport. Without an airport at the Homestead base, HABDI's dreams of riches will be dead.

But even HABDI's attorneys must now realize a lawsuit alone won't work. Litigation is merely a stalling tactic. Through its lobbyists, HABDI is trying to pressure the Bush administration to do what Judge Friedman refused to do: reverse the air force decision and allow the air base to be developed as a commercial airport.

According to the most recent disclosure forms on file in Washington, HABDI spent $300,000 on lobbyists from July 1, 2000, to December 31, 2000. This is in addition to $960,000 spent during the previous twelve months. All that money -- $1.26 million in eighteen months -- was used to pressure the Clinton administration. We won't know for several months how much HABDI has spent so far targeting the new Bush White House.

During the hearing before Judge Friedman, HABDI's attorney, Ignacio Sanchez, argued with unintended irony that the air force's decision to prohibit an airport was based not on the merits but on politics. Friedman brushed that aside, as he did every other argument made by HABDI and the county. Next week we'll see if county commissioners have gotten the message.

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