LGWCD Rejects $200K For Southern States Deed

The Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District Board of Supervisors countered a request Monday by Southern States Land & Timber for $200,000 in exchange for quit claim title to the district’s road easements by inviting its representatives to visit, so they’ll see the liabilities they could face by trying to retain those claims.

The district is working to transfer title of its recently paved roads to Loxahatchee Groves, and it had asked Southern States to give up any claims it might have to the rights-of-way in order to give the town clear title.

Southern States’ claimed titles date back 100 years, to a period when the company owned much of the land in central Palm Beach County. However, during the supervisors’ discussion, it was unclear whether the company actually had any claim remaining to the easements at all.

District Administrator Steven Yohe said his staff had sent a letter asking for the quit claim, and that Harry Smith, the firm’s vice president, sent a letter dated May 14 offering to provide a quit-claim deed for the roads subject to the 1918 right-of-way agreement between Southern States and the LGWCD for a payment of $200,000.

Yohe sent a letter June 3 declining the offer, and inviting Smith to visit the subject roads and canals so he would recognize the benefits to his company if it would quit claiming any interest to those tracts. “The Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District Board of Supervisors declines your offer to execute a quit claim deed in exchange for a payment of $200,000,” the letter stated. “As you acknowledge, a complex chain of title makes it difficult to even prove Southern States Land & Timber LLC even has ownership of the subject lands.”

The letter also specified that the district would be willing to pay the company a nominal amount for its staff and attorney’s time in exchange for a quit-claim deed, but not $200,000.

“Otherwise, we will proceed without SSL&T’s quit-claim deed,” Yohe’s letter stated. “However, I encourage you to visit the district and personally observe the condition of the subject land to better appreciate the benefits to SSL&T to quit claim any interest to the roads and canals.”

Supervisor John Ryan said the district legal staff’s concern that was not included in the original letter to Southern States was that it typically retained mineral rights on the 2 million acres that it ultimately sold.

“That leaves Southern States as a liable private party not protected by sovereign immunity or the limits that the district and the town enjoy,” Ryan said. “I think the reason for inviting them down here is we’re trying to say to them that the rights-of-way we want quit claims to is just the roads and canals throughout the Groves, and that the situation with these local roads without guardrails is that they are a hazard, and we frequently have accidents, some with very serious injuries.”

Ryan added that it has become increasingly known that Southern States is a financially sound private party liable for accidents that take place, and it might be in the company’s self-interest to concede the quit-claim deeds so that any gray areas over the rights-of-way could be dispelled.

“I think they might have a different view if they come here and are firsthand acquainted with the situation,” Ryan said.

In other business, the board was informed that the district had received approved agreements from the Town of Loxahatchee Groves for road grading and base rock for all town roads, as well as emergency call-outs for emergency repair of town roads.

Yohe said he had arranged for a meeting with town management to resolve the unaddressed issues.

The board also approved the execution of a quit-claim deed to the town for Compton Road and Marcella Blvd. Ryan made a motion authorizing the board to follow through and to let the chairman execute the quit-claim, which carried 5-0.