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Editorial: Enron subsidiary
Azurix's failed attempt at Florida's water
rights sends warning message
Sunday, March 24, 2002
The Naples Daily News
Little did most of us know that when Enron collapsed, it was due in
large measure to an ill-fated campaign for control of Florida's drinking
The name of the Enron water subsidiary is Azurix.
Thanks to Florida's open records laws and investigative reporters, we
see how close our state in general and Southwest Florida in particular
came to being ensnared beyond our friends and neighbors losing their Enron
Stories originated by the Sarasota Herald-Tribune and republished by
this newspaper last Sunday show how Azurix lost nearly $1 billion trying
to win long-term leases to withdraw water from the ground and relax state
laws on aquifer storage and recovery (ASR) wells for stormwater runoff and
treated sewage effluent. Azurix even offered to help pay for Everglades
restoration, in hopes of repayment from the $8 billion state and federal
commitment to the project, in return for the exclusive rights to sell the
project's newly protected resource.
Azurix hired key lobbyists. They include at least one former board
member of the South Florida Water Management District — James Garner of
Fort Myers, who tried in vain to win Lee County's water utilities contract
for Azurix — and at least one former district executive director, John
Wodraska. The water district includes Collier and Lee counties.
Azurix enjoyed enthusiastic support from David Struhs, Gov. Jeb Bush's
chief of the Department of Environmental Protection. Struhs, who worked
with Enron CEO Kenneth Lay in the administration of President George W.
Bush's father, championed water privatization at a Florida Chamber of
Commerce seminar on Marco Island in July 2000.
In hindsight, comments made by Struhs, Garner and Wodraska at that
meeting are ominous:
Struhs: "Start with the idea water is a public resource.
Given that, can we still harness the power of the marketplace? I
believe the answer is yes."
Wodraska: "There are going to be major capital expenditures, so bring
in efficient private enterprise."
Garner: "It's probably the most efficient way to solve the problems
looming on the way and do it without bankrupting the public coffers."
Further, Struhs made a special trip to Naples as late as last spring to
lobby this newspaper on ASR-friendly legislation. Shortly thereafter,
about the same time Enron started to collapse, his support for ASR
dissipated, citing environmental concerns.
The ties between Gov. Bush — whose brother's Pentagon employs at least
one ex-Enron executive, who is building a home in Naples — and Struhs and
Enron are striking. Yet, instead of prompting calls for investigations,
the Florida Azurix story struggles for a groundwork of public awareness.
Two points register sharply:
n Water must be kept as
public property in the public sector. Though that means management by a
huge, non- elected bureaucracy, it is easier to track than if it were in
private hands, where the potential for exploitation is boundless even by
n Though Enron and Azurix
failed, someone else is likely to try to get the privatization job done.
The money and power at stake are irresistible. We have to be on the alert
for ourselves, because our state regulators were on the wrong side, that
of the manipulators, the first time around.
From now on when water and ASR and long-term leases are brought up,
watchdogs will perk up.