Only in Martin County would the forces that drove a village to favor incorporation try to stop it from happening.
That's what's going on in 100-year-old Indiantown, population 6,000, just east of Lake Okeechobee, much to the chagrin of the team of residents who have put the incorporation plan together, moved it successfully through the state Legislature, worked out the wrinkles with the county and now are trying to provide honest answers to residents' questions.
The nearer it gets to Nov. 7, when Indiantown residents will vote on independence, the louder outsiders' cries against incorporation.
And where does the organized opposition come from?
From the same activists Martin County voters ousted when they elected a new commission majority in 2016: an unelected cabal of environmental litigators led by former county commissioners Maggy Hurchalla (who sets the tone for dissent), Donna Melzer (a lawyer), Anne Scott (a lawyer) and Hurchalla's personal lawyer, Virginia Sherlock. None of them lives anywhere near Indiantown.
It started more than a week ago when Melzer, who heads the Martin County Conservation Alliance, distributed an email to all Indiantown residents trying to sell a notion that an incorporated Indiantown Village would cost residents higher taxes, annex land for development that would smash the county's four-story height limit, upend protections for rivers and wetlands, and destroy quaint "old Indiantown" in its rush to embrace big out-of-town developers.
But Melzer attached to her email a letter to the residents of Indiantown from Maggy Hurchalla, telling a story about Timer Powers, longtime Indiantown resident, respected Martin County commissioner for 12 years and president of the Indiantown Gas Co., which he founded.
"When I was first elected to the Martin County Commission a long long time ago, Commissioner Timer Powers from Indiantown taught me everything I know about good government," Hurchalla wrote.
Her story suggested if Powers were alive today, he would be opposed to Indiantown incorporation -- based on Powers' disagreement with then-Commissioner Frank Wacha over Jensen Beach incorporation.
Trouble is, oldtimers who still remember Powers, especially in the 1970s and 1980s, as a county commissioner, as a member of the South Florida Water Management District Governing Board, as the man who probably did more than anyone in Florida to formulate a landmark water rights compact with the Seminole Tribe -- the first in the nation resolving Indian claims without major, costly litigation -- couldn't imagine him resorting to Hurchalla-style fantasies, fibs and fear tactics to drive this incorporation vote.
Kevin Powers, one of Timer's three sons, admitted he resents Hurchalla using his father to advance her campaign to remain relevant. This is the statement he gave Sunshine State News:
"It came as no surprise that Maggy Hurchalla would emerge in opposition of any movement to bring smaller government closer to the people and empower Indiantown to decide what is best for Indiantown.
"Her first round of opposition was in the form of an open letter to the residents of Indiantown. Also, not surprising, the letter was the usual blend of false, misleading and fabricated information combined with her typical scare tactics designed to promote fear and divide.
"What did come as a surprise and shock, was the depth that Ms. Hurchalla would stoop by attempting to use the legacy of my father, former Martin County Commissioner Timer Powers, in her quest to advance her false narrative. In a very distorted way, this stunt was intended to suggest that Timer would somehow endorse her mission. Nothing could be further from the truth. Timer was the epitome of good government. It is certain, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Timer would never subscribe to these tactics, this behavior, or what seems to be acceptable as “good government” for Ms. Hurchalla. Amazing that this would come at a time when Ms. Hurchalla herself remains embattled in a legal crisis of her own doing costing taxpayers millions of dollars for litigation that is not over yet."
The Indiantown incorporation leadership team got wind of a planned Oct. 18 Conservation Alliance meeting with Indiantown independence on the agenda. They decided to crash it, saying they wanted Indiantown residents and anybody else in the audience to "hear the truth."
What transpired that night was an out-and-out confrontation between Indiantown residents, the Alliance -- and former commissioner Scott.
Scott adopted a common police surveillance tactic of photographing every Indiantown resident and supporter who attended the meeting, with an audience of about 60, at Wolf Technology Center on the IRSC campus.
Scott used her cell phone camera to snap pictures of Indiantown residents and supporters sitting on the opposite side of the auditorium. As the meeting progressed, she moved to the side of the room, aiming her camera phone toward the seats of the Indiantown contingent, aisle by aisle, until she reached the back of the room, where she appeared to switch to videotaping with her camera phone -- not Alliance members' presentations, just the Indiantown residents and supporters.
Nevertheless, residents and incorporation supporters were not intimated, and spoke up anyway.
“I just feel it's important that we stand up for what we know is true,” said Scott Watson, president of the Indiantown Independence group of about 30 residents, who has been organizing the incorporation effort over the past year. “And what you're saying about us are just lies.”
Kevin Powers took his opportunity to address the contents of Hurchalla's letter. He asked Melzer for a personal apology to him and his family for circulating "untruths" about his father and about Indiantown.
Melzer responded that the statements were not hers; they came from Maggy Hurchalla.
“But you repeated them, Donna,” he shot back, “and they are lies.”
In her email, Melzer had encouraged Alliance members to urge Indiantown residents not to vote for incorporation, claiming the effort had little to do with creating jobs or giving residents control of their futures, as Indiantown organizers have stated.
Instead, Melzer claimed, the incorporation is merely a future opportunity to annex land to the east and “develop new cities all the way to Bridge Road and I-95. Developers want to be free of height and density limitations imposed by the county’s comprehensive plan,” she wrote.
The feasibility study posted on the Indiantown Independence website specifies that Indiantown intends to use the county's Comprehensive Growth Management Plan as the model for its own. It also will contract with the county for fire and police protection based on the taxes it currently pays for those services, and the salaries for village council members will be $5,000 per year.
At the end of five years, the Village of Indiantown will have a surplus of nearly $15 million, according to the study, without the need for additional taxes on residents.
Watson, who owns Indiantown Marina, told Melzer the group had no intention of doing any of the things that she claimed, especially building a city hall. The new village intends to lease space in an office building.
“You owe these people an apology for your lies,” Watson said, turning to the Indiantown residents sitting in the audience. Unsurprisingly, Melzer did not apologize.
She also had claimed that the incorporation effort was initiated and paid for by an organization called One Martin, comprising agricultural, environmental and urban interests within Martin County.
Rick Hartman, president of One Martin, told Melzer his group had nothing to do with the Indiantown incorporation effort, and no one from Indiantown has yet made a presentation to the group.
Said Ike Crumpler of Upstairs Communications, “I believe if you ask every person in here -- in fact, if you ask just about every person in this county, you are going to get the same answer. They want the four-story height limit. That's not even a question in Martin County.”
Melzer's reply: “Someone approached me some years ago about building a 20-story building on I-95 ...”
Indiantown is home to less than 4 percent of Martin's population yet provides 16 percent of its ad valorem taxes. It is the ideal place for heavy industry. Pure and simple, it's a tucked-away economic engine that bothers virtually no one.
"We don't want to be told what to do any longer by a shadow government that works against the economic and quality of life issues that are close to the Indiantown residents," Kevin Powers told Sunshine State News in April.
It's true, the new County Commission majority in Martin is business and Indiantown friendly. But Martin government is a swinging pendulum, and a changing of the guard whenever it comes is bound to affect Indiantown, as it invariably does.
Meanwhile, Indiantown has consistently hammered away at attracting economic drivers and business expansion, only to have those efforts denied, delayed or regulated out of existence -- in the last several years by Martin's shadow government: a boat manufacturing plant conversion, and Indiantown Airport and Bay State Milling expansions are all examples.
Without a doubt, the last straw was EcoGen. Nothing did more than the EcoGen experience to put Indiantown on Independence Road.
In July 2016 -- despite strong community support -- the County Commission chased out the biomass electric generating plant proposed for the Indiantown industrial area -- an operation that would have made the company the second largest taxpayer in the county. EcoGen just didn't want to stick around any longer to play Martin's games.
Much-needed jobs aside, EcoGen would have provided annually $450,000 in tax revenue, $20.5 million in output sales (money put back into the community) and $6.7 million in payroll.
Alas, EcoGen's request fell victim to Martin's unelected shadow government, led by Hurchalla and Sherlock. And despite the commissioners' original enthusiasm, county staff recommended denial and all commissioners but one followed like lemmings. Read the sad story here.
Hurchalla, Melzer and their friends don't want new industry in the county's industrial center. They like the status quo. Shut up, Indiantown, and stay in your place.
Enough is enough. There is no more deserving candidate for independence than Indiantown.