Broward County commissioners agreed Tuesday to spend $10.7 million on an 18-acre tract that could someday be turned into a parking garage serving Port Everglades and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
But one commissioner voted against the deal, saying the county could face liability for possible environmental problems on the property.
Debbie Bowers, the county's deputy port director, said the county hopes to build a parking garage within five years to serve travelers and workers at the airport and port. The 5,000-space garage would cost $75 million.
The commission voted 8-1 to buy the land east of South Federal Highway north of Eller Drive. Dynegy Midstream Services, a Delaware limited partnership, owns the vacant piece of land that has been used as a tree farm.
Commissioner Ilene Lieberman cast the dissenting vote after grilling county staff and the seller's representatives on the land deal.
Lieberman, an attorney, voted against the purchase because she said the county will be liable for any potential cleanup since the seller wouldn't provide an environmental warranty saying the seller didn't create contamination and wasn't aware of any pending action.
''We've let them off the hook,'' she said.
Some other commissioners also expressed reservations since appraisers expressed concerns about soil conditions.
''We have great concerns about the potentially expensive de-muck and fill site work that could be needed to render the subject site suitable for new construction,'' wrote one appraiser. 'Because the subject site is very large and because the unknown costs to cure subsurface conditions can be very expensive, we have no choice but to label the final value conclusion as 'hypothetical.' ''
But environmental tests completed after the appraisals showed no dangerous concentrations of contaminants, although the site will need some work before a parking garage can be built on it, according to a soils report.
The bottom line according to staff: The site is safe for a parking garage.
Lieberman wasn't satisfied however. Although an environmental assessment didn't show levels in violation of federal standards, that could mean the site is clean or that soil borings missed contaminated spots, she said.
But other commissioners said that they wanted to snatch up the property before another buyer and that the purchase cost would only rise later.
Commissioners wanted the land in the county's hands rather than be developed privately.
''It's a security buffer,'' Commissioner Ben Graber said. ''Whether we build a garage or nothing there, it's something strategically and logistically we really need to have.''
Option To Sell
Worse case scenario: The county could always sell the land later anyway, commissioners said.
The county is paying halfway between two appraisal amounts.
The county faced criticism -- and a criminal investigation -- after it paid double the value for land at Port Everglades owned by developer Michael Swerdlow in 1997.
The $120 million contract led to no prosecutions, although investigators criticized the county for failing to buy the land at the lowest price.
The controversy led to several land-purchase reforms.
Copyright 2005 Associated Press