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Sugar companies discussing land swap

MIAMI — A day after announcing a $1.75-billion deal with U.S. Sugar Corp. to buy land for Everglades restoration, Gov. Charlie Crist said Wednesday that negotiations were under way to trade some of the parcels for other pockets of land needed to restore water flow.

U.S. Sugar has tentatively agreed to sell to the state its nearly 300 square miles in the Everglades. Now the company is beginning talks with the other major sugarcane producer in the region, Florida Crystals Corp., about swapping out some of the land so the state can have a contiguous swath for Everglades restoration.

U.S. Sugar's land is not all together, and the state wants it whole so it can connect to the rest of the Everglades ecosystem.

"Florida Crystals has already acknowledged their willingness to help us negotiate this," the Republican governor told reporters during his summit on climate change.

Florida Crystals owns about 280 square miles, according to its Web site.

U.S. Sugar has begun preliminary negotiations with the company, but ultimately the state will have to make the deal, said U.S. Sugar vice president Robert Coker.

"They have expressed willingness to sit down and discuss it," Coker said Wednesday.

Florida Crystals did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the Associated Press.

The U.S. Sugar deal could be sealed by November. The company then would be allowed to continue farming its land for six more years before going out of business.

Florida officials plan to build a network of reservoirs and marshes on the land to filter water flowing into the Everglades. Agriculture and development have stymied restoration for years, blocking the wetlands' natural flow patterns and polluting the water.

The overall Everglades restoration effort is the largest of its kind in the world. It is aimed at undoing or rerouting decades of flood-control projects that were built to make way for houses and farms.

The state of Florida now produces nearly a quarter of all sugar made in the U.S., according to the U.S. Agriculture Department. U.S. Sugar Corp. is currently the nation's largest producer of cane sugar, processing about 700,000 tons of sugar a year.

Sugar companies discussing land swap 06/25/08 [Last modified: Monday, November 1, 2010 1:27pm]
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