WEST PALM BEACH — The tanking economy could force Florida to scale back its $1.34 billion deal to purchase land from U.S. Sugar Corp. to help restore the Everglades, a person close to the negotiations told the Associated Press Thursday.
The state had been working to secure financing so it can buy the 180,000 acres the Everglades from the nation's largest producer of cane sugar. But the state may scale back the purchase to less than half the acreage at less than half the cost, said the person, who requested anonymity because Gov. Charlie Crist is expected to make an official announcement in the coming days.
Crist has been basking in praise from environmentalists for the historic deal, which was announced in June as he stood on the edge of the Everglades. But since then, the deal has slowly started to unravel.
The governor's office did not return calls seeking comment Thursday, but has indicated that the deal could be altered.
"It may be," the governor said Wednesday. "The facts have changed. The economy is what it is, and I think that we all need to be cognizant of those factors whether it relates to the Everglades preservation deal or any other fact."
Florida's budget gap could reach $6 billion, though $3 billion could be filled by stimulus funds. The Everglades deal apparently became too expensive in light of budget shortfalls and crashing property taxes, which the South Florida Water Management District hoped would help cover the cost of the estimated $100 million of annual debt payments. It plans to finance the deal through bonds.