Port to sue warehouser for $1 million

mjohnson@bradenton.comJune 19, 2014 

Stevedoring client is accused of not paying off its lease, damaging building

PORT MANATEE -- A stevedoring client that failed to pay off its lease and allegedly damaged a Port Manatee warehouse is being sued by the port authority for more than $1 million in damages.

On Thursday, the Manatee County Port Authority unanimously approved filing asuit against Liberty Terminals, a South Carolina-based terminal, stevedoring and warehouse operator. Liberty acquired a lease on the port's Warehouse No. 2 in 2008 when it purchased WSI, which was leasing the warehouse at the time. WSI's lease on the warehouse began in 2001.

In its filing with the 12th Circuit Court in Manatee County, the port contends Liberty breached an early termination agreement under which it had agreed to pay the port $367,739. Liberty has paid $130,000 of that amount, but recently ceased making payments on the debt. When Liberty terminated its lease, it was using more than 60,000 square feet of port-owned warehouse space to store cargo and commodities, including lumber.

The port also alleges in 2009 a Liberty employee caused structural damage to the building's support columns and a deck outside the building. In court documents, the port estimates the cost of the repairs to be about $691,000. It is seeking that amount in addition to the remaining payments on the early termination, legal fees and interest.

Repair work on the warehouse had begun. It will be leased to a new client once the repairs have been completed and the building is approved for occupancy.

Carlos Buqueras, port executive director, said the suit is a last resort. Liberty stopped making payments on the 2012 early termination agreement last year. The port's law firm, Lewis, Longman & Walker, issued a notice of default to the company in September. Buqueras said Liberty has not responded to the notice.

Whether the port fully pursues the suit depends on whether Liberty has the capacity to pay. If the port and port attorneys determine Liberty is unable to pay a settlement, it will not risk racking up big legal bills on a lawsuit that may not result in a damages payment.

Liberty's Chief Executive Henrik Meincke said his company has not been contacted about the suit.

Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027, or on Twitter@MattAtBradenton.

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