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State, U.S. Sugar agree to scaled-back land buy

Florida has reached a tentative deal with U.S. Sugar to revise a proposed land buy meant to boost Everglades restoration, significantly lowering the initial $1.75-billion cost, two sources familiar with the agreement told the Associated Press on Monday.

The revised deal for a territory about the size of the city of Chicago would mean the state will not buy the company's high-tech sugar mill, railroad lines and citrus processing plant, the sources said. However, the overall acreage involved in the deal wouldn't be significantly reduced.

They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the details before Gov. Charlie Crist's scheduled announcement of the potential deal Tuesday.

Under the initial proposal, U.S. Sugar was set to go out of business after six years once the deal was signed. Now it's unclear how long the land will remain in agriculture since the new proposal calls for farming to be phased out over time as restoration projects are designed. That could mean the company — which has about 1,700 employees — will remain in business longer.

Farming in the region has long been considered a hindrance to restoring natural water flow to the Everglades, blocking flow patterns and contributing pollutants and fertilizers to the ecosystem.

The new proposal still requires the approval of the boards of U.S. Sugar and the South Florida Water Management District.

Crist's office did not return calls seeking comment, but released an advisory saying he would appear Tuesday afternoon at the former Miami home of Marjory Stoneman Douglas, one of the state's most revered environmentalists. She wrote the influential 1947 book The Everglades: River of Grass.

U.S. Sugar vice president Robert Coker had no comment.

Regardless of this deal, 300,000 acres in the Everglades, or about 500 square miles, will remain in agriculture production by other companies.

State, U.S. Sugar agree to scaled-back land buy 11/10/08 [Last modified: Thursday, November 4, 2010 9:29am]
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