CLEWISTON, FL. -- Governor Charlie Crist Wednesday announced that Florida water management officials have agreed to new terms in their negotiations with the United States Sugar Corporation. The new terms, subject to approval by the South Florida Water Management District include a land only purchase of more than 180,000 acres at a purchase price of $1.34 billion.
The Governor's announcement from Miami was delayed a day after his state aircraft had mechanical difficulties Tuesday and made a diverted landing at Sarasota. "A land purchase creates unprecedented possibilities for the River of Grass and for our environment," said Governor Crist, standing outside the Miami home of the late author and Everglades advocate Marjory Stoneman Douglass in Coconut Grove. "Many people, including the late Mrs. Douglass, have looked forward to this day. Today, we are closer than ever to making their dreams a reality and giving this wonderful gift of restoration to the Everglades, to the people of Florida, and to our country."
The 180,000 acres, one of the largest environmental land acquisitions in our nation's history, will in theory allow the South Florida Water Management District needed wetlands to protect Florida's coastal estuaries to preserve the Everglades. Governor Crist first announced in June plans to begin negotiations at the 2008 Serve to Preserve Florida Summit on Global Climate in Miami.
The wetlands area roughly the size of New York City -- will be used to reestablish a part of the historic connection between Lake Okeechobee and the fabled River of Grass through a managed system of storage and treatment.
The Water Management District says acquiring the enormous expanse of land offers water managers the opportunity and flexibility to store and clean water on a scale never before contemplated. Water managers expect that dedicating significantly more land in the Everglades Agricultural Area to restoration will build upon and enhance the 30-year state-federal Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan and the State of Florida's Northern Everglades program to restore and protect Lake Okeechobee, the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers and their respective estuaries.
U.S. Sugar will presumably come out well, sell virtually all its Florida land to the state. About 1700 workers will be directly affected, but their future is still up in the air pending future negotiations on what will happen to the mills and processing plants in the Clewiston area.
"We look forward to continuing to work with the Governor and the District in the cooperative spirit with which we have begun," said Robert Buker, president and CEO of U.S. Sugar. "We are happy to help the state of Florida restore one of her most precious treasures."
Joining Governor Crist and Robert Buker at the Marjory Stoneman Douglass House were Eric Buermann, Chairman of the South Florida Water Management District Governing Board; and Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Mike Sole. Also in attendance were elected officials and environmental advocates.
The Governor's office says the benefits from the land acquisition include:
· Huge increases in the availability of water storage, significantly reducing the potential for harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee to Florida's coastal rivers and estuaries when lake levels are high.
· The ability to deliver cleaner water to the Everglades during dry times and greater water storage to protect the natural system during wet years.
· Preventing thousands of tons of phosphorus from entering the Everglades every year.
· Forever eliminating the need for "back-pumping" water into Lake Okeechobee from the Everglades Agricultural Area to augment the water supply needs. The District's Governing Board this year voted not to back-pump into the lake during the ongoing water shortage to protect water quality.
· Additional water storage alternatives, relieving some pressures on the Herbert Hoover Dike while the federal government undertakes repairs.