Florida will now buy some 30,000 hectares for US$533 million — and hold a 10-year option to buy the remainder — from US Sugar Corporation, the country’s largest sugar-cane producer. US Sugar owns a vast amount of land between Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades, a diverse and complex subtropical ecosystem.
Environmentalists have long criticised the sugar industry for cutting off the natural flow of water to the Everglades and contaminating the watershed with fertiliser. The state’s goal in buying the land is to convert agricultural land into conservation land, allowing water managers to create a system to clean and store water before sending it south into the unique Everglades.
“The economy has been what it has been and we have to deal with the parameters that we are given,” Crist said. An original US$1.75 billion deal announced in June 2008 was revised downward to $US1.34 billion last November.
Because the deal with US Sugar was not part of a 30-year partnership between federal and state officials to restore the Everglades, environmentalists see it as a bonus. Kirk Fordham, head of the conservation charity Everglades Foundation, said “we’re frankly overjoyed” that Crist had not abandoned the project entirely.
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