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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Crist announces $533 million scaled-back Everglades plan



Gov. Charlie Crist repackaged his plan to buy U.S. Sugar land for Everglades clean-up and announced Wednesday a scaled-back proposal that will cost taxpayers $533 million -- 60 percent less than his original plan -- for 72,500 acres of land.

This is the second time the govenror has scaled back the blockbuster deal and Crist admitted "this hasn't been easy.'' But, he said, it has been worth it to protect "the living symbol of the beauty of Florida.''

Flanked by a giant photo and two oil paintings of the River of Grass, Crist emphasized that there will be an option to buy the remaining 107,500 acres for the next 10 years. 

The state's faltering economy made it impossible to continue with his original plan, Crist said. "We have to deal with the parameters that we are given,'' he said. The modification and new approach was essential to "still making this dream possible.''

"Even though it's scaled down, it's still the biggest ever,'' Crist said. "It's about twice the size of Orlando.''

Plans call for eventually converting the land into reservoirs and pollution treatment marshes to help the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee for decades.

This is the second time the governor has scaled back the deal, first reducing it from the original $1.75 billion bid for the entire company to a $1.34 billion plan to buy land only, including U.S. Sugar's 180,000-acre empire of citrus groves and sugar fields.

But that effort also has been undermined by budget shortfalls, rising unemployment rates and plummeting property values and tax revenues.

Robert Coker, vice president of U.S. Sugar said the purchase will allow the company to continue "with certainty.'' The agreement allows the company to continue farming the 72,500 acres through a 7-year lease that may be extended under certain circumstances. 

U.S. Sugar will lease back the cane land to the South Florida Water Management District for $150 per acres, Coker said, for the first seven years. If the district has water projects in line and needs more land, it can take up to 32,000 acres of citrus land with one year's notice and up to 10,000 acres of cane land with two years notice, he said. 

"This will forever change the footprint and the land use of South Florida,'' Coker said.

The agreement continues to have a September deadline, but it can be extended if both parties mutually agree, Coker said. Both the U.S. Sugar Board of Directions and the water management district must approve the new amended terms. Download FinalAmendedTermsRelease4-1

[Last modified: Thursday, September 9, 2010 7:34pm]


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