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GOP ally gets big oil lease at port

There's a new and influential player in the Port of Tampa's petroleum business.

Port commissioners voted Tuesday to lease 43 acres to an affiliate of International Oil Trading Co., owned by Harry Sargeant III of Delray Beach, a major Republican fundraiser and longtime friend of Gov. Charlie Crist.

International Oil Terminals Tampa LLC plans to build a $70-million facility to store and distribute oil, gasoline and biofuels shipped into the port. The terminal will be among Tampa's largest, with 15 to 25 tanks and capacity of 1.1-million barrels. Operations should begin by January 2010.

As part of the deal, the Tampa Port Authority will spend $25-million to expand one petroleum vessel dock and build another. The publicly owned docks, already in the port's capital improvement plans, will be available to petroleum companies besides International Oil Terminals, said port director Richard Wainio.

Four port commissioners, three of them appointed by Crist and one by ex-Gov. Jeb Bush, unanimously approved the lease. Crist didn't contact commissioners about the vote, said Sterling Ivey, a spokesman for the governor.

Wainio said neither Sargeant, his staff nor any port commissioners lobbied him to support the lease deal. "Who (Sargeant) supports politically is not a concern of mine as long as people don't pick up the phone and try to pressure me,'' he said.

Crist and Sargeant were fraternity brothers in the 1970s at Florida State University. Sargeant and his family have donated $29,800 to Crist over the last 12 years, and he loans the governor his corporate jet.

Republican presidential candidate John McCain picked Sargeant as his Florida finance co-chair. Last month, McCain returned $50,000 in campaign contributions after newspapers reported that Sargeant's donor network collected thousands of dollars from apolitical Californians of modest means.

His oil trading company has won more than $1-billion in contracts to supply fuel to the U.S. military in Iraq. Sargeant and his brother, Daniel, control one of the largest asphalt operations in the world with companies that market, trade and refine asphalt from petroleum.

Information from the Miami Herald was used in this report. Steve Huettel can be reached at huettel@sptmes.com or (813) 226-3384.

GOP ally gets big oil lease at port 09/17/08 [Last modified: Thursday, September 18, 2008 4:04pm]
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