Florida agreed to buy almost 300 sq. miles of farmland north of the wetlands from a U.S. Sugar company for $1.75 billion. The tentative deal will expand and restore the Everglades, a key U.S. ecosystem, and relieve the sugar company from its financial bind.
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BETTY ANN BOWSER, NewsHour Correspondent:
For over 50 years, there have been a variety of efforts to try and repair the Everglades in South Florida from the damage done by farming and development.
But yesterday's announcement that the state will spend $1.7 billion to buy farmland from the U.S. Sugar Corporation would be the single biggest boost to those restoration projects.
Republican Governor Charlie Crist helped pull the deal together.
GOV. CHARLIE CRIST (R), Florida: We have an opportunity to provide the critical missing link in our restorative activities. I can envision no better gift to the Everglades, the people of Florida, and the people of America, as well as our planet, than to place in public ownership this missing link that represents the key to true restoration.
Thanks to U.S. Sugar Corporation, we have a strategy to acquire almost 187,000 acres of land. That's almost 300 square miles.
BETTY ANN BOWSER:
Often called "the river of grass," the Everglades are a unique ecosystem that is both wet and dry, supporting alligators, wading birds, and a myriad of other species.
Although many details are still being negotiated, the plan is to buy U.S. Sugar's fields, railroad and refinery that are located between Lake Okeechobee and the already protected land to the south, the Big Cypress Preserve and Everglades National Park.
U.S. Sugar would be allowed to continue farming for six years to meet contract orders and labor agreements, but then operations would shut down.
The 77-year-old company grows and refines 10 percent of all sugar produced in the nation, but has recently been hurt by low-price imports.
This deal would not end all sugar production in the Everglades. Some 300,000 acres of land owned by other companies would remain in production.
Sugar farmers have long been the target of complaints from environmentalists for using polluting fertilizer and diverting much-needed water from the Everglades. Environmentalists were both pleased and surprised by yesterday's announcement.
This land deal could allow further expansion of the 44,000 acres of marshland the state is already creating to filter and clean the water that flows from the agricultural areas to the Everglades. It also could provide reservoirs to hold water that would be used during dry seasons.