Good news, I think. Scripps has to build Lab Space or they will loose a lot of donor money. It's not official, but word is that they will strike a deal to build at an alternative site in the West Palm Beach area and start in the next 60 days, plus or minus. My fingers are crossed.
I can not believe this is happening. I just found a house in North Palm Beach and was just about to transfer money. It's a cruel joke, if anyone cares to read. For now, the job is on indefinite hold.................
County halts Mecca construction for Scripps
By Stacey Singer
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
WEST PALM BEACH ? Plans for a massive biotechnology village on Mecca Farms were shelved Tuesday after Palm Beach County commissioners ordered its contractors to stop construction and advised The Scripps Research Institute to do the same.
Abandoning the research park means that about $18 million worth of publicly financed construction work on Scripps buildings would go to waste. The county has spent millions more for site work, on top of the $60 million cost of the property.
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The search for a new home for Scripps begins immediately. County commissioners said their recommended alternative is the Florida Research Park, a quiet industrial site on Beeline Highway, 2 miles north of Mecca Farms.
"This board has voted on a backup site," County Commission Chairman Tony Masilotti said. "If Scripps wants more information, we will get it for them. That said, it's time Scripps made their decision."
The county gave Scripps until Dec. 20 to accept the Florida Research Park or wait for a lengthy environmental study that must be done on Mecca Farms.
But it was not clear whether Scripps would accept an alternate site that it had rejected twice. Environmental groups that successfully sued to stop development on Mecca Farms showed signs they may fight that site, too.
"Our concerns about the Florida Research Park have always been about adjacent development, and we still have those concerns," said Lisa Interlandi, an attorney with the Environmental and Land Use Law Center. "That's not to say those concerns cannot be alleviated."
After a teleconference with his trustees late Tuesday, Scripps President Richard Lerner seemed frustrated.
"At this point we must have certainty," he said. "The sad part of all this is that the scientific mission is succeeding beyond anyone's expectations."
Lerner said Scripps could not respond officially until it receives a letter detailing the commission's position.
Scripps' decision not to send a high-ranking representative to Tuesday's meeting angered some commissioners and showed that fissures between the institute and local government are growing.
At the heart of the tension is the huge expense that would accompany any move, a cost that taxpayers probably would cover. The cost of Scripps' 365,000 square feet of buildings could rise from its $137 million price tag to $200 million.
Land at the Florida Research Park has been offered for Scripps for $5 a square foot, or $21.8 million for the 100 acres Scripps says it needs.
It's not clear whether Scripps or the county would pay the tab.
And if the deal falls apart, there could be even greater damages.
"Our job is to protect taxpayers," Masilotti said. "I'm not willing to support spending more money at this time until you can show me where it's going to come from.... I'm not sure we're not at the point of diminishing returns, frankly."
Scripps' separate $310 million contract with the state carries penalties for contributing to construction delays, and that has made it reticent to look at anything other than Mecca Farms, until now, County Administrator Bob Weisman said.
"They represented that, due to their legal position, they don't ever seem to want to take responsibility for upsetting the Mecca apple cart," he said. "They constantly turn to the county to make the decision. To the extent that today's decision does that for them, fine."
The commissioners' votes came in response to a new order Monday from U.S. District Judge Donald Middlebrooks. He sided with the Florida Wildlife Federation and the Sierra Club in their suit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Middlebrooks' newest order, answering questions from Scripps and the county, said any infrastructure to serve Scripps must be limited to serve only Scripps, not the anticipated development that would follow.
Weisman said that would require the county to redraw its infrastructure plan and to apply for a new group of permits, all of which would be open to new legal challenges and new delays.
"It's clear we're not going to be able to go ahead on Mecca without a delay, a substantial delay," he said.
Faced with the conundrum, commissioners voted to stop their own construction contracts and to notify Scripps that it should stop building, too.
Meanwhile, they told their staff to seek a new, comprehensive environmental impact statement from the corps. Having that federal permit in hand would make their land more valuable if it is sold to developers to recoup the money sunk into the Scripps project.
However, the county's plans to encourage development of Mecca Farms lies at the root of environmentalists' threat to stop Scripps at the Florida Research Park.
Commissioners left a small opening for Scripps to look at other sites, saying their staff should continue to respond to Scripps' questions about the viability of all sites.
Weisman said Scripps repeatedly has shown interest in building in Abacoa, the Jupiter development where its temporary building sits on a branch of Florida Atlantic University.
The school has offered about 35 acres out of its 135-acre campus, although county officials have pushed FAU to consider up to 80 acres.
"We're still having active discussions with FAU on the 80-acre campus, but there have been no conclusions on whether that was acceptable," said Shannon LaRocque, the county's Scripps program manager.
That site is hugely popular with Scripps' scientists, who have urged administrators to work harder on it.
But pressure from Tallahassee is making that almost impossible, politically.
Gov. Jeb Bush reiterated Tuesday that Scripps must have 100 acres, its buildings must stay the same size and any site must accommodate 8 million square feet of biotech construction.
"They picked Mecca because it delivered that and the 8 million feet. So if there's going to be an alternative, the same three criteria really apply," Bush said. "It can't be, 'Well, trust us, it'll happen,' because we've obviously seen the track record in that regard."
County Commissioner Jeff Koons challenged the size requirements: "The 8 million square feet is a Scripps building every year for 20 years, OK? A huge, completely unrealistic assumption that we could do."
LaRocque said property for biotech development in Jupiter and Palm Beach Gardens could accommodate 3.4 million square feet.
The Briger parcel across Donald Ross Road from FAU in Jupiter has a land-use plan that would allow an additional 8 million square feet, but it may not be available.
Prescott Lester, who represents the Briger heirs, confirmed industry rumors that he is in final negotiations to sell the 708-acre site in pieces.
"We have several builders and users that we are in discussion with, and we are trying to work out multiple deals on the property," Lester said.
He added that he plans to sell the land to more than one buyer, because "it's a big project." The deal has high-end residential, retail and some office, too.
Although recent zoning changes will allow biotech, Lester isn't making biotech a condition of any deal.
"We did everything we could to help Scripps along, but so much time has elapsed," he said. "We don't need Scripps to make this work."
Lester wouldn't name potential buyers, but he said talks are somewhere between the letter-of-intent and signed contract stages. He hopes to have a firm deal in hand by Christmas.
Koons said he hoped Scripps' site preference would be settled by then.
"How many people do we get calling and stopping us who say, 'Don't screw this up. Don't lose Scripps,' " Koons said. "I would love a Christmas present from Scripps that says, 'We want a new site, and we're gonna go.' "
If Palm Beach County ultimately cannot accommodate Scripps, Senate President Tom Lee said late Tuesday that he he would insist on an open and competitive process to choose a new site, with no "backroom deals."
He said he would not support any attempts during the upcoming special session to force the issue, but said he knows that other lawmakers are not as patient.
"There's a lot of legislators salivating like Pavlov's dog over the idea they're going to steal this project away from Palm Beach County," Lee said.
I'll get ya a snake bite kit for your house warming present!
Have you ever felt like a YO-Yo? This article is from this afternoon. The previous article was from this morning. Start looking for the snake bite kit.
Palm Beach County plans to file for 'clarification' on Scripps
By Joshua Hafenbrack
Sun-Sentinel dot com
Posted November 11 2005, 3:32 PM EST
Palm Beach County changed its tune today on the implications of a federal judge's landmark ruling in the Scripps Florida project, offering a far more upbeat assessment.
Thursday's ruling by Judge Donald Middlebrooks allows Scripps to build its offices on 44 acres at Mecca Farms, a west-county orange grove, but stops the county from doing any further work until the Army Corps of Engineers conducts an environmental study expected to take two years.
This ruling was tagged a "cruel joke" by Commissioner Mary McCarty because it appeared to allow Scripps to build its offices, but didn't let services such as water and power reach the facilities.
But today, Shannon LaRocque, the county's Scripps point person, took a different view. County lawyers reread the 27-page decision and decided the judge intended to allow the county to hook up the Scripps buildings to essential services.
The county plans to file a motion for a clarification Monday, she said. "We're very confident that upon clarification the project will be able to proceed," she said.
California-based Scripps is buildings its Florida campus with $369 million from the state and $200 million from Palm Beach County. A biotech village is anticipated to sprout around the biomedical researcher, but environmental groups have sued to stop the project because of the rural location.
I'll get ya a snake bite kit for your house warming present!
Hold off on that snake bite kit, just when everyone yhinks the water is clear, they murkey up again. I am in complete limbo again!
Scripps ruling fuels more limbo
By Stacey Singer, Deana Poole, Hector Florin
Palm Beach Post Staff Writers
Friday, November 11, 2005
The future of the county's biotechnology park on Mecca Farms appeared murky Thursday after a federal judge allowed construction of the Scripps campus to continue but halted development on nearly all but 44 acres of the project.
U.S. District Judge Donald Middlebrook's ruling was "kind of a s*ck and cruel joke," Palm Beach County Commissioner Mary McCarty said, because it allowed the buildings to rise, but without near-term access to roads, sewer and water, and electrical lines.
An initial reading of the complex 27-page ruling prompted Gov. Jeb Bush and Scripps officials to declare victory. But as the night progressed, county staff suggested the optimism may have been premature.
"We are extremely pleased with the judge's ruling today as it affects construction at Scripps Florida. We expect to continue that construction," Scripps spokesman Keith McKeown said shortly after its release.
A spokeswoman for Bush sounded the same relieved tone.
"Our preliminary review is that this will allow the Scripps project to move forward. This is an extremely important project to the state," said Alia Faraj, Bush's communications director. "We hope any legitimate environmental issues can be resolved through negotiations by all the parties."
But the county's administrative staff said the ruling won't allow construction of the project's main thoroughfare, Biotech Parkway, which is intended to link with eastern PGA Boulevard and is the only way to connect the Scripps property to paved roads.
Middlebrooks said that road could not be built until the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had reconsidered plans for the park. The environmental study the corps is likely to order will take two years or more, with an uncertain outcome.
The county's top administrator, Bob Weisman, said he feared the judge's decision would throw the controversial project into even more turmoil.
"I'm disappointed because it's going to start another period of significant indecision about Scripps' future here," Weisman said. "It's clear that we're going to have to wait for a new permit, and that delay will be in years."
Partial permit ordered revoked
In his ruling, Middlebrooks ordered that a partial corps permit to fill ditches on the grove must be revoked. The grove was once a wetland, and its ditches were dug from a flow-way that sent fresh water toward the Loxahatchee River.
Rather than ordering the corps to perform a detailed environmental study or recommending an alternate site, Middlebrooks accepted the corps' request that the matter be returned to them for further review.
"Although I decline to enjoin Scripps' construction of three buildings on the site, I am in no way endorsing such construction, nor do I mean to suggest that developing a research park on Mecca Farms is environmentally sound or otherwise feasible," Middlebrooks wrote. "Construction is a risky proposition, since the outcome or timing of the required environmental analysis is difficult to predict. There is no guarantee that the remainder of the project can be completed once all relevant environmental impacts are taken into account."
He said that until the corps properly considered the direct, indirect and cumulative impacts of the development needed for the 1,920-acre project, further construction on that land must stop, with a few exceptions.
The precise nature of the order's exceptions provoked Thursday night's confusion. Middlebrooks allowed the paving of a small portion of Seminole Pratt-Whitney Road to continue because it is nearly finished and did not affect ditches.
He also allowed the Northern Region Pipeline Project to be finished. That pipeline goes toward the Scripps site but does not reach it, said Shannon LaRocque, an engineer who is the county's Scripps project manager.
And, he allowed construction to continue on Scripps' 44 acres, citing the harms Scripps said would arise from a work-stoppage.
But an exchange between Middlebrooks and Scripps' attorney, James Banks, may have proved the project's undoing. Middlebrooks asked Banks if the buildings still worked if PGA could not be extended. Banks answered, "Absolutely."
Because the Biotech Parkway is also called PGA Boulevard, it may not have been clear that Middlebrooks' question referred to the western extension needed to link Scripps with Seminole Pratt-Whitney Road, rather than the eastern portion planned to run through the adjacent Vavrus Ranch. McCarty suggested that clarification might be needed.
The state has invested $310 million to recruit Scripps to Florida. The county agreed to pay $200 million to buy land and erect buildings for the institute, plus the cost of utilities and roads. Estimates for those infrastructure costs have ranged from an additional $200 million to an additional $600 million.
Some county commissioners speculated that the project now may need to be moved. They called on Scripps and Bush to make the hard decisions about what to do next.
"Now I think it's time that Scripps is going to have to make some decisions," Commissioner Burt Aaronson said. "Certainly this is going to take 24 months to 36 months, if not longer."
Commissioner Karen Marcus said: "We have offered these other sites and other options to Scripps. They're just going to have to decide."
Commissioner Jeff Koons suggested that the site be moved to a more easterly location where the cost of roads and water and sewer are cheaper.
"If we could have spent 10 minutes doing some planning, we would have thought differently. By this time, we would have had the building up and built," Koons said.
McCarty noted that the commission had named the Florida Research Park, also known as the Palm Beach Park of Commerce, as its choice of alternates in February. The park is 2 miles north of Mecca Farms, on Beeline Highway.
Commissioner Addie Greene noted that Scripps had formally rejected that site, possibly leaving land in Abacoa in Jupiter as a choice.
"If they want to go to Abacoa, I will go and vote for them," Greene said. "We have no other choice ? if we don't, we lose Scripps."
Delays have added $14 million
McKeown said Scripps would call for a meeting with county officials to be briefed on their ability to provide infrastructure to the site. Scripps has spent about $17 million so far on its 365,000-square-foot complex, with foundations being poured this month.
Whether the project is moved or just delayed, the order seemed destined to pile on millions more in cost overruns in a project that already has accumulated at least $14 million in bills due to delays.
Commission Chairman Tony Masilotti worried that Scripps and the county could find themselves suing each other over paying the tab.
He said the county should evaluate its legal options and reach out to Scripps.
"I know I wouldn't be in favor of just building a building if it can't be used," Masilotti said.
Asked if the project should be moved, he said, "As long as Scripps agrees they're not going to sue us for the money, if we could move forward quicker, it would make sense."
Middlebrooks admonished the parties to do their homework.
"At this juncture, the parties may wish to consider whether 'build now ? study later' is the best approach, particularly where substantial public funds and environmental resources are at stake."
WEST PALM BEACH ? Construction of The Scripps Research Institute on Mecca Farms will be allowed to proceed under a ruling handed down by U.S. Judge Donald Middlebrooks late Thursday.
But the county's top administrator, upon reading the ruling, believed that "yes actually means "no," at least for the next year or two.
Middlebrooks found that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had improperly issued a permit for a small segment of the 1,920-acre property, and must be set aside.
He returned the matter to the corps, but ordered that construction on the site must be stopped until a valid permit is issued. But he made a few key exceptions to that injunction: He is allowing Scripps to continue building on the land it leases from the county, and he'll allow roads and a water line to run through the site.
Complicating matters, however, he did not grant the county permission to go ahead with its plans for an electrical sub-station in the J.W. Corbett Wildlife Management Area. And it appears that it won't be possible to connect that water line to Scripps' actual buildings.
"The judge said, 'Yes, Scripps, you can build the building, but county, you can't do anything to make that usable until after the corps issues a new permit,'" said County Administrator Bob Weisman. "It means there will be a substantial delay in the implementation of infrastructure to the site, because it's clear that we're going to have to wait for a new permit, and that delay will be in years."
The power supply problem will likely put the county in the position of having to buy or condemn several homes in the Acreage, a community to the south of the park.
The corps is likely to require a lengthy environmental impact study that will now take into account the entire biotechnology park planned for the former orange grove, plus all of the roads needed to support it -- and, the much needed power station. Such a study could take around two years.
This is the latest. It's a soap opera. I will be coming back there next week, hopefully all this legal krap will end!
Judge delays Scripps ruling until Thursday
By Stacey Singer
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 08, 2005
U.S. Judge Donald Middlebrooks said he'd try to issue a decision by Thursday afternoon in a case pitting environmentalists against the U.S. Army Corps. The case has the potential to stop construciton of the Scripps Biotech Park on Mecca Farms.
Middlebrooks said he found himself in a quandary over how to proceed given the nuances of the case and urged the parties to try to mediate a solution.
That appeared unlikely.
Richard Grosso, representing the Florida Wildlife Federation and the Sierra Club, said the judge should order a comprehensive study of the entire 2,000-acre park plus related roads and infrastructure. He also asked the judge to stop construction on the Scripps site. Attorneys for Scripps, however, made a strong case that the judge had no such authority because Scripps was not a party to the lawsuit and had been given dry land to start its project well before the lawsuit was filed.
On Sept. 30, Middlebrooks sided with the Sierra Club and the Florida Wildlife Federation, saying that the county and the Army Corps should not have agreed to build on a small segment of a much larger project.
Middlebrooks said he'd be willing to delay his Thursday ruling if there was a sign the parties would sit down to mediate.