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Public may soon own 300 square miles of Everglades:

Sweet Deal? Florida to buy 187,000 acres from U.S. Sugar

Governor Charlie Crist and the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) are poised to make one of the largest environmental land acquisitions in Florida’s history. The state of Florida is moving ahead with negotiations with U.S. Sugar Corporation to purchase a 300-square mile tract in the Florida Everglades for an estimated $1.75 billion. The proposed agreement involves the public purchase of nearly 187,000 acres of the Everglades spanning four counties in South Florida. The land would be used to reestablish part of the historic connection between Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades through a managed system of storage and treatment.

The state intends to protect the land from development. Restoring the area will reportedly provide more land that would promote the natural filtering of water flowing from Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades. A tentative agreement between the state and the nation’s largest sugar cane producer was announced on June 25. Under the agreement U.S. Sugar would operate for six more years before going out of busines and allowing its 187,000 acres, refinery and other assets to be taken over by the state, which intends to allow the property to return to its natural state.

The giant sugar company is reportedly under intense pressure trying to compete with cheaper sugar imports. If the deal goes through some 1,700 U.S. Sugar employs would lose their jobs. The state will reportedly offer them job retraining opportunities. SFWMD staff is now in detailed negotiations with the company to hammer out details and hopes to have a deal by September. The state says acquisition of the property will provide the “missing link” needed to protect Florida’s coastal estuaries and better revive, restore and preserve one of America’s greatest national treasures?the Everglades. The SFWMD would use tax dollars to pay off bonds that would finance the purchase. The ultimate purchase price will depend upon the appraisals and assessments and will require approval by the SFWMD Governing Board.

According to SFWMD, benefits of the Everglades land acquisition include: ? Increases in water storage to reduce harmful freshwater discharges from Lake Okeechobee to Florida’s coastal rivers and estuaries. ? Improvements in the delivery of cleaner water to the Everglades. ? Preventing thousands of tons of phosphorus from entering the Everglades. ? Eliminating the need for “back-pumping” water into Lake Okeechobee. ? Relieving some pressures on the Herbert Hoover Dike while the federal government carries out repairs. ? Sustainable agriculture and green energy production.

As part of the proposed acquisition, United States Sugar Corporation, over the next six years, will retain the right to farm and manage the land consistent with its previous business practices and fulfill remaining business obligations. The District, together with the Governor’s Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development, will work closely with people in communities surrounding the Everglades Agricultural Area on an economic transition as the negotiations move forward.