The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

David Guest,

Everglades Land Deal Closes Important Step to Store and Treat Everglades Water

Tallahassee, FL

The South Florida Water Management District today closed on the initial
River of Grass land acquisition with U.S. Sugar. The deal will set aside
nearly 27,000 acres of former Everglades land, now used for
agriculture, for restoration and water quality improvements in the

The deal originally encompassed more than 180,000 acres but was
downsized because of the economic downturn. However, the deal leaves
open the possibility of the District acquiring the remaining 153,000
acres in the future.

"No one imagined that Florida could get more Everglades land into public
ownership," said Earthjustice attorney David Guest. "This is just the
first step, but it is an important step in securing land that is
critically needed to store and treat polluted water going to the

In the current scaled-down U.S. Sugar deal, the South Florida Water
Management District will acquire 26,790 acres from U.S. Sugar for $197
million. The deal includes two parcels. The first is comprised of 17,900
acres of citrus located in Hendry County. This parcel will be used for
water quality projects in the C-139 basin, which has long suffered from
elevated pollution levels. The second parcel, located in Palm Beach
County, contains 8,900 acres of sugarcane. This parcel will be used to
expand existing water quality treatment for the S-5A basin, and to help
protect the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge.

U.S. Sugar's primary competitor, Florida Crystals, along with the
Miccosukee Tribe, had waged a fierce legal and lobbying war to derail
the U.S. Sugar deal. However, the District persevered. At the end of
August, court-appointed Special Master John Barkett released a report
recommending that a massive planned reservoir project be abandoned in
light of the restoration opportunities made possible by the land
acquisition. Sierra Club, Florida Wildlife Federation, National Wildlife
Federation, Defenders of Wildlife, National Parks Conservation
Association, and Audubon Society of the Everglades -- all represented by
Earthjustice -- had argued that the reservoir should be reconsidered in
light of the new, more natural, and sensible options presented by the
land deal.

"This is a historic day for Florida," Guest said. "I am hopeful that we are on the track to true Everglades restoration."

Earthjustice is a non-profit public interest law firm dedicated to protecting the magnificent places, natural resources, and wildlife of this earth, and to defending the right of all people to a healthy environment. We bring about far-reaching change by enforcing and strengthening environmental laws on behalf of hundreds of organizations, coalitions and communities.