187,000 Acres May Be Restored: U.S. Sugar Assets Go To Florida in $1.75B Deal, Ryan Hiraki, USA TODAY June 25, 2008.
A 300-square-mile tract of the Everglades would be returned to its natural state under a plan announced Tuesday as part of an attempt to undo decades of damage by pollution and encroaching development. A $1.75 billion tentative agreement between the state of Florida and the nation's largest sugar cane producer was described by both sides as one of the biggest conservation initiatives ever. As part of the proposal, U.S. Sugar would operate for six more years, then go out of business and allow its 187,000 acres, refinery and other assets to be taken over by the state. Florida wants the property to return to its natural state as part of a plan to clean up the famed "River of Grass."
"This is as monumental as the creation of our nation's first national park — Yellowstone," Gov. Charlie Crist said in announcing the deal at Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, 20 miles from West Palm Beach. The giant sugar company is under intense economic pressure from low-price sugar imports. It employs 1,700 people; all will lose their jobs if the deal closes. The state is offering them retraining.
"You wouldn't sell out if you couldn't do something fair for the employees and stockholders," U.S. Sugar CEO Robert Buker said. "We built a company that right now is the pillar of the agriculture community in Florida," he said. "Because of that, I stand here today with mixed feelings. … On the other hand, I'm excited about what we're doing here today." Details need to be worked out. Officials hope the state and privately held U.S. Sugar's board and shareholders will approve a deal by September. Frank Jackalone, a regional representative of the Sierra Club, applauded the move: "If they can restore the flows, it can help correct what's happened in the last 60 years."
The state intends to protect the land — the size of almost 13 Manhattans — from development, which has been encroaching on the Everglades for decades. Returning the land to its natural state would provide more area to cleanse southbound water from Lake Okeechobee, restoring the natural filtering of water that the Everglades has provided. Fertilizers, car oil and other pollutants have damaged the ecosystem.
Crist signed a deal with U.S. Sugar's Buker and South Florida Water Management District Governing Board member Shannon Estenoz. The governing board, which controls water management projects in 16 counties from Orlando to the Florida Keys, would use tax dollars to pay off bonds that would finance the purchase to buy the land and assets. "Florida is on the leading edge of preservation, and it's committed to restoring the Everglades," Crist said. U.S. Sugar was founded in 1931 by Charles Stewart Mott, a millionaire philanthropist who acquired bankrupt Southern Sugar. The deal would not end sugar production in the Everglades. About 300,000 acres used by other growers would remain in production.
Text Source: http://www.usatoday.com/printedition/news/20080625/1a_lede25_dom.art.htm
Photographs: Top (burning sugar cane fields) sofia.usgs.gov/.../evapotrans/photogallery.html
Bottom (burnt sugar cane fields) www.marietta.edu/~biol/biomes/wetlands.htm