With a critical vote looming Tuesday on whether the state of Florida will move forward with its buyout of U.S. Sugar properties to benefit the Everglades and Everglades National Park, the $1.34 billion deal no longer seems like a surety.
If you recall, back in June word broke of the deal that then was being touted as an unprecedented chapter in land-conservation history. At the time, the state of Florida said it would buy 187,000 acres north of Everglades National Park from U.S. Sugar Corporation and preserve the land to help ensure water flows into the park from Lake Okeechobee.
The land involved in the purchase is viewed as invaluable to the national park. It will, figuratively speaking, straighten a kink in the natural plumbing of the region. It's been developments such as the sugar plantation that have disrupted natural water flows from the lake into the park. Without them, the so-called "River of Grass" can't survive.
At the time the tentative $1.7 billion deal negotiated over a number of months by Florida Governor Charlie Crist seemed to mark the end of U.S. Sugar. While the deal has been tempered a bit since that story broke in June, the current package remains seen as vital to the long-term health of the Everglades.
With the Governing Board of the South Florida Water Management District convening today and Tuesday to decide to whether to purchase 181,000 acres of U.S. Sugar’s land in the Everglades Agricultural Area for restoration, the Everglades Coalition issued a release urging the board's support.
“The governor’s vision of including the Everglades Agricultural Area in Everglades restoration is monumental,” said Mark Perry, state co-chair and executive director of the Florida Oceanographic Society. “This acquisition will represent one of the most important opportunities to protect America’s Everglades.”
The Everglades Coalition’s Essentials for Everglades Restoration identified nine restoration essentials and benchmarks that must be achieved if the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan is going to deliver benefits as it originally promised. Four of these essentials addressed the critical need for more water storage and treatment to truly restore our River of Grass.
“If we do not take this opportunity now, there is no assurance we will ever have the land we need to store and clean water to send south into Everglades National Park,” said Sara Fain, national co-chair, Everglades Coalition and Everglades Restoration program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association. “With this landmark acquisition, we now have the ability to make better decisions about how to reestablish the historic River of Grass.
“As the state of Florida continues to provide great leadership and initiative for the Everglades, we look to our federal partners for a sustained commitment to support and fund the plan that will restore the health and natural sheetflow of America's Everglades,” said Ms. Fain. “Only with a strong federal-state partnership can we truly achieve our goals.”
But not everyone remains enthralled by the blockbuster deal. Here's a snippet from a story running in the Miami Herald:
Gov. Charlie Crist's blockbuster bid to buy cane fields and convert them into Everglades projects may pass. But board approval is not the slam-dunk it seemed six months ago. With opponents last week ramping up a campaign from Miami to Tallahassee, failure is an option.
Even environmentalists, who dubbed the vast sugar fields ''the holy grail'' of Glades restoration, admit to reservations -- topped by the prospects of rock mines bordering marshes and paying longtime nemesis U.S. Sugar Corp. top dollar for land then leasing almost all of it back at a quarter of going market rates for seven years.
''This is a deal that makes absolutely no sense,'' said district board member Michael Collins, who contends most of the tracts aren't needed and in the wrong place.
''Just like the holy grail, this is based on a myth,'' he said. ``If you get rid of the [sugar industry], you solve all the Everglades problems. It's not true.''
You can find the entire story here.