“You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”–Rahm Emanuel

Mayor Dean Trantalis’ continued push for a public-private partnership (P3) solution to Fort Lauderdale’s failing water infrastructure could reap big rewards for his closest political advisers. For several years, the City of Fort Lauderdale promised to fix the aging Fiveash Water Treatment. One month after the disastrous sewer breaks in Rio Vista, Victoria Park and Coral Ridge, Mayor Dean Trantalis held a infrastructure update meeting at City Hall. Trantalis tried to combat public perception that he was not doing enough to address the infrastructure issues plaguing the City. After laying out a plan to fix sewer lines, Trantalis brought up the Fiveash Water Treatment Plant.

After declaring we “simply need a new plant,” Trantalis revealed, “several international players in the water industry have expressed an interest in a fast-tracked public-private solution that can bring more efficiency, more stable cost, guaranteed maintenance and higher water quality.” Trantalis said “we’ll see” if it is the right solution for Fort Lauderdale.

Less than one year earlier, Fort Lauderdale wanted to fix the existing Fiveash plant. In February 2019, the City Commission gave Carollo Engineers a $650,000 contract to create a “road map for use, reuse and/or potential replacement” of Fiveash. In April 2019, the City asked for proposals from companies interested in completing Fiveash “reliability upgrades and disinfection systems replacement. The City budgeted $30 million dollars for the project to fix Fort Lauderdale’s yellow water.

Bids were due by 2:00pm on Friday June 7, 2019 at City Hall.

On June 8, 2019 Mayor Dean Trantalis took a taxpayer-funded trip to Israel.

According to the Sun-Sentinel, Trantalis’ entourage included city manager Chris Lagerbloom, Trantalis’ chief of staff Scott Wyman, Police Capt. Bill Schultz and Director of Sustainable Development Anthony Fajardo. For the ten day trip, “Taxpayers paid $33,411.96 — $6,682.39 per person — for Trantalis and the four city officials, according to city spokesman Chaz Adams.”

City Commissioners questioned Trantalis’ overseas tour. “The trade mission has city commissioners questioning the process that goes into planning a ‘trip that no one knew about,’ according to Commissioner Robert McKinzie.”

The Road To Hadera

According to the Westside Gazette, Dean Trantalis met with five major Israeli investment groups for “discussions involving partnerships for major infrastructure and public works projects in Fort Lauderdale.” While in Israel, Trantalis took a field trip to Hadera:

“Mayor Trantalis’ delegation will also visit the Hadera desalination plant, which uses cutting-edge technology in the production of drinking water. City officials want to learn more about the facility because Fort Lauderdale’s Fiveash Water Treatment Plant is at the end of its life expectancy. It soon must be replaced or substantially renovated, but at the same time, the future supply of water in the region faces challenges due to continued population growth and climate change.”

Trantalis posted pictures of his visit to the water plant on his Facebook page.

Dean Trantalis in Israel

After returning to Fort Lauderdale, Trantalis wrote about his trip to Israel in a Sun-Sentinel op-Ed. He wrote, “a critical aspect of the trip was our visit to the Hadera water desalination plant. The builder/operator of the plant has been pursuing public-private partnerships around the globe and provided insights about long-term water solutions.”

The Hadera plant was built by Israeli-based IDE Technologies, which recently constructed a new desalination plant in Carlsbad, California. “[IDE Technologies] reached a 30-year operation and maintenance agreement with Poseidon Resources, which last week said it had secured $922 million funding for the project. Poseidon Resources, a subsidiary of Poseidon Water, said the treated water will be delivered into San Diego County’s water system.”

THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE

At its August 20, 2019 meeting, the Fort Lauderdale City Commission rejected the two bids it received to fix issues at the water treatment plant. According to a City staff memo, both bids were “significantly over budget” with the lowest bid coming in at $47.3 million dollars. The City’s projected cost was just $32 million dollars.

With the rejection of bids to repair Fiveash, the push for a public-private partnership (P3) began in earnest.

On October 7, 2019, Mayor Dean Trantalis and City Works Director Paul Berg attended the City’s Infrastructure Taskforce Committee meeting. When the topic of Fiveash was brought up, Berg said Carollo Enginners warned the process to remove the yellow color from City water would cost $100 million dollars per year, so they recommended rebuilding the Fiveash facility. While the Carollo Report would not be issued until December, Berg said the Fiveash reliability project would be rebid “this week.”

According to the meeting minutes, “The Chairperson reminded the committee that it had decided to not second guess the Fiveash report. The Committee will be proactive in reviewing the funding sources.”

Trantalis went on to describe his trip to Israel. He said he “met with Israeli companies, Poseidon and Suez, both companies want to forward a P3 proposal regarding the water plant.”

When asked about the P3 process by a committee member, Trantalis said, “that at this it isn’t known specifically how the process of using a P3 approach will work with competitive job bidding.”

“The Mayor expressed when the private sector gets involved projects get done much quicker. He used Lockhart Stadium as an example. He expressed that the water, wastewater and water plant systems were more complicated…but he would like to explore the P3 approach to the projects as well.”

At the November meeting the Infrastructure Taskforce Committee received a thirty-page presentation entitled “To P3 Or Not To P3” which explored the benefits of water system public-private partnerships. The Committee would vote to recommend a P3 solution to Fiveash as well as the hiring of a P3 consultant.

Even though he pushed for a P3 solution since June 2019, Trantalis would not have an official meeting with the “international water industry players” until December.

TRANTALIS POLITICAL TEAM HIRED BY POSEIDON

According to official meeting logs, on December 2, 2019 Mayor Dean Trantalis met with a Poseidon Water lobbyist. Trantalis had a noon lunch with attorney Stephanie Toothaker at Doc B’s restaurant in Fort Lauderdale. Trantalis and Toothaker were joined by Poseidon Water Senior Vice President and General Counsel Kelly Huffman.

According to the logs, two hours later, Toothaker met with Commissioner Ben Soresensen at the neighboring Kelley Uustal (KU) law firm to discuss Poseidon Water. The logs indicate Sorensen and Toothaker also discussed the Beckham/Lockhart Stadium project. Toothaker is the registered lobbyist for Beckham’s Inter Miami CF MLS soccer team. Nearly two hours later, Toothaker traveled to City Hall to discuss Poseidon Water with Commissioner Heather Moraitis.

While she logged the meetings with Trantalis, Sorensen and Moraitis, City records show Stephanie Toothaker is not the only registered lobbyist working for Poseidon Water.

Records show Carol Howard, the former executive director of the South Florida Water Management District, registered on October 31, 2019 as a Poseidon Water lobbyist. On November 19, 2019, Toothaker registered as a Poseidon Water lobbyist. One day later, Eric Johnson of Johnson Solutions registered as a Poseidon Water lobbyist. Then, on December 2, 2019, (the same day Toothaker met with Trantalis, Sorensen and Moraitis), James MacDiarmid of Layline Solutions registered as a lobbyist for Poseidon Water.

Published reports state Eric Johnson (via Johnson Strategies) represents Dean Trantalis. In his 2018 run for Mayor, Trantalis paid Johnson Campaigns $6,600 for consulting. According to State of Florida records, Johnson Campaigns is owned by Eric Johnson. City of Fort Lauderdale records show Johnson represents several clients.

While these same records show James MacDiarmid only represents one client, he is no stranger to City Hall. State records show Layline Solutions LLC was formed by twenty-one year Ian MacDiarmid in March 2019. The State records list a Miami Beach address as Layline Solutions’ place of business.

Official voter registration records show Ian MacDiarmid’s father, James Blake MacDiarmid, is registered to vote at the same Miami Beach address.

During the 2018 campaign, Blake MacDiarmid was a paid consultant for Commissioner Heather Moraitis. On November 14, 2017 Moraitis paid $10,000 to Blake MacDiarmid Inc (at the same Miami Beach address) for “professional fees.”

On his website, MacDiarmid, the self-proclaimed “mayoral whisperer,” claims to be an adviser to Dean Trantalis, Steve Glassman, Ben Sorensen and Heather Moraitis.

Pictures from the January 9th Infrastructure Update meeting show MacDiarmid seated in the front row. The night before, MacDiarmid and Trantalis Chief of Staff Scott Wyman sat together at the Board of Adjustment meeting hearing the AIDS Healthcare Foundation appeal.

Is it a coincidence that Dean Trantalis’ political advisers stand to profit from a public-private partnership to build a new water plant?

Is a deal with Poseidon Water imminent?

Will Mayor Dean Trantalis seek any public input?

Did any Trantalis advisers work on the the AHF, Lockhart Stadium and Holiday Park/Florida Panthers projects?

City of Fort Lauderdale voters deserve answers, right?

REDBROWARD asked Mayor Dean Trantalis for comment. We will update story if he responds.

More to come…

Blake MacDiarmid
Stephanie Toothaker with Commissioner Steve Glassman
Blake MacDiarmid, on right, at recent fundraiser for Commissioner Steve Glassman

Published by Tom Lauder

Covering South Florida Politics Since 2010...As Seen On: POLITICO, The Huffington Post, The South Florida Sun-Sentinel, The Miami Herald, WPLG LOCAL 10 (ABC MIAMI), The New Times

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