Is Tampa bleach company behind conservation group's push to halt state competitor?
Wake up and good morning. Hmmm. There's a legal spat afoot that the Tampa company that supplies bleach-like products to disinfect much of our drinking water may be secretly trying to stifle competition.
A St. Lucie County (that's north of Palm Beach) manufacturer claims in a recently filed lawsuit that the Tampa company is illegally using the Conservation Alliance of St. Lucie County to stop construction of a new bleach-making plant. The lawsuit filed last week by Allied New Technologies Inc., which is building a plant to make bleach using a "salt-to-bleach" process. Allied claims Odyssey Manufacturing Co. of Tampa, (photo, courtesy of Odyssey, of main facility on Massaro Blvd. in Tampa) which owns the state’s only other salt-to-bleach facility, has been organizing and paying for the alliance’s effort to thwart construction of the plant. A story detailing the dispute appears on TCPalm.com, the Web site of the local St. Lucie County newspaper. According to the complaint:
"Odyssey has directly or indirectly funded the permit challenges, regulatory complaints and other regulatory/administrative actions by paying the attorneys fees, expert/consultants’ fees and other litigation costs and expenses incurred" by the alliance.
And what of the Tampa company and its manager, Patrick Allman? "Odyssey Manufacturing is a relatively new company that began operations at its 'state of the art' bleach manufacturing facility in Tampa, Florida in March of 2000," the company Web site explains. "Odyssey is willing to work hard to earn your trust. It offers unprecedented quality and service at very competitive prices." Here's one example of the business Odyssey does with Tampa Bay Water -- Tampa Bay's regional water overseer -- which has used Odyssey's sodium hypochlorite to help disinfect the wholesale water supply.
So who is funding the conservation group's efforts against Allied? Allied's lawsuit claims Odyssey’s law firm, Ruden McClosky Smith Schuster & Russell of Fort Lauderdale, petitioned the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to deny a permit modification at Allied’s proposed plant that would allow Allied to dispose of waste brine in a deep injection well owned by the Fort Pierce Utilities Authority. Here's more detail on this issue, again from the TCPalm Web site. Allied claims one of Odyssey’s lawyers told alliance members about the proposed permit and the law firm picked up the cost of filing and litigating the successful effort to delay its approval.
Scott Fuerst, a Ruden McClosky attorney (in photo) working with the conservation alliance, told the St. Lucie newspaper the local environmental group isn’t paying his firm for its work. Nor is the firm working pro bono. But he would not identify who's paying the bill, according to the newspaper story.
"What difference does it make?" he told the paper. "People can pay other people’s legal bills. It happens all the time, especially in conservation and environmental cases because they’re noble causes." He called Allied's lawsuit "totally without merit."
Kevin Stinnette, president of the Conservation Alliance of St. Lucie, also skirted the issue, saying: "If someone who wants to contribute to our cause has ulterior motives, I’m not going to look a gift horse in the mouth."
So the legal spat leaves us wondering. Is Odyssey anonymously bankrolling efforts to squelch a competitor? Or are lawyers and environmental groups, "noble cause" and all, letting a lawsuit point the finger at an uninvolved company? Imagine what a little transparency would do. We'll follow this case with interest.
-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist