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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Crist praises water board vote on sugar deal

A day after winning approval for his landmark Big Sugar land buy, Gov. Charlie Crist thanked water managers in person.

The governor, on his way to a hurricane conference in Fort Lauderdale, paid an impromptu visit Thursday to the South Florida Water Management District in West Palm Beach. Crist, who on Wednesday had watched a Web cast of a decisive district governing board vote on the $536 million deal with U.S. Sugar Corp., thanked the board for "tenacity and perseverance."

The vote preserved a massive land purchase sure to bolster the governor's "green" reputation as he launches a campaign for U.S. Senate. It also will likely ensure campaign support from a company that has historically been generous in backing favored candidate.

Robert Coker, a U.S. Sugar vice president, showed up for Crist's brief stop and the governor stopped to shake his hand and exchange a few words. Coker said the company had not yet made a donation to the governor's Senate run but intended to remain active in Florida politics.

"I hold Charlie Crist in the highest regard and I'll be helping him every way I can,'' Coker said.

Crist also praised Carol Ann Wehle, the district's executive director, and her
staff, and Michael Sole, secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. They had led nearly a year of negotiations with U.S. Sugar, starting with a $1.75 billion buyout of the company's mill, railroad and all of its 180,000 acres the governor first pitched in June.

-- Curtis Morgan

[Last modified: Thursday, September 9, 2010 6:00pm]


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