Economy Forces Fla. To Rethink Everglades Deal
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From Miami, NPR's, Greg Allen reports.
GREG ALLEN: Even after the downsizing, it's still the largest land conservation deal in Florida's history, an area about twice the size of Orlando. The original deal was far larger, 180,000 acres of land, plus all of U.S. Sugar's plants and facilities for $1.75 billion. But it was announced at a critical time, shortly before the economy and the stock market went into freefall.
CHARLIE CRIST: You know, nothing worthwhile in life is easy. This has not been easy.
ALLEN: Under new terms worked out with U.S. Sugar, the state will now acquire more than 70,000 acres of land for $530 million. Florida will also retain an option to buy U.S. Sugar's remaining landholdings for 10 years. Crist says that gives Florida the ability to wait until the economy turns around before buying the remaining 107,000 acres.
CRIST: The point is to connect the lake, Lake Okeechobee, with Florida Bay and restore the natural flow. And this has been a dream of many for a long time, a long time before I got here.
ALLEN: It's a dream, though, that will now have to wait a few more years, at least until the economy improves. In the meantime, there are other benefits to the new smaller deal. An important one for U.S. Sugar workers and residents of the nearby town of Clewiston is that it preserves an estimated 1,700 jobs. For at least the next decade, U.S. Sugar Vice President Robert Coker says the company will keep running its sugar mill and refinery.
ROBERT COKER: U.S. Sugar will be able to continue to operate with some economic certainty, which will help our employees and help our local community leaders understand that our company is going to continue to be in existence and provide good economic jobs for our communities.
ALLEN: And the water that does flow south now contains pollutants that harm the fragile ecosystem. Kirk Fordham, head of the Everglades Foundation, says the 70,000 acres being acquired by the state will help address both issues, water flow and water quality in the Everglades. And he says he's not troubled by the deal's downsizing.
KIRK FORDHAM: Everglades restoration was always intended to be conducted in phases and even if they had acquired all of the land tomorrow, they couldn't possibly begin constructing projects on all that land.
ALLEN: Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.
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