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Huge land deal pushed

A pioneering Florida family has stepped up its efforts to swap mineral rights in the Big Cypress National Preserve for the Orlando Naval Training Center, due to close in 1998.

Orlando officials said the Collier family, which owns large tracts in southwestern Florida, plans a written proposal soon.

The family wants to trade oil and gas rights under the environmentally sensitive preserve east of Naples for the Orlando base and other bases due to close in California. Such a deal would need the approval of the Interior Department, the Defense Department and possibly Congress.

To push their plan, the Colliers have hired Washington lobbyists and a former aide to Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt when he was governor of Arizona.

Babbitt has reportedly been receptive to the idea because it would preclude oil drilling in the Big Cypress. But lower-ranking experts in the Interior Department have cast doubt on the value of the Colliers' mineral rights because oil production in the area is modest and highly regulated.

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