Dubious Port Tank Deal A Bernie Friedman Special?

A county selection committee today chose a Brazillian firm called Cepemar Environmental Services to take over the tank field at Port Everglades. It's a big deal -- and already reeks of undue influence by a key lobbyist.

     The firm, represented by lobbyist Bernie Friedman, will pay the county $1 million a year for 30 years and promised to pump in $30 million in improvements to the 60-year-old facility. Commissioners Sue Gunzburger and Ken Keechl put Cepemar over the top with their favorable votes for the company.

Sounds good until you look at what the second-ranked company, Tulsa-based Magellan Midstream Partners, which wasn't smart enough to hire a well-connected lobbyist. Magellan offered the county a minimum of $75 million in improvements and $1.2 million a year in rent. By my rudimentary math, that makes their deal better for taxpayers by a minimum of $48 million.

Commissioners John Rodstrom and Lois Wexler went Magellan's way.

Here's the kicker: Gunzburger and Keechl both have been historically cozy with Friedman, who hails from Gunzburger's Hollywood. Keechl received some good money related to the port deal, too: $500 from Cepemar, $500 from Friedman, and $500 from Friedman's law firm, Becker & Poliakoff for his 2010 race. 

And that's only what I noticed from a very quick perusal of Keechl's contribution list. I didn't immediately catch any Cepemar-related tribs paid to Gunzburger, but she has historically received big bucks from Friedman and his cohorts as well.

Now this may not be as nefarious as it appears -- the Pulp always like to give the benefit of the doubt. Cepemar is big into ethanol, so Keechl and Gunzburger might have environmental reasons for their vote, in addition to, uh, political considerations. (Though ethanol use has serious issues when it comes to marine engines).  For shortchanging Broward taxpayers about $48 million, they better be damn good reasons, though. 

Whatever the case, the moral of this story is: If you want to do business with Broward County, hire a lobbyist.

[We'll be talking about this and other issues on Barry Epstein's 10 a.m. Friday radio show on 1230 AM. Listen live here.]