Florida has tapped the brakes on its fast-track $1.75 billion bid to buy out Big Sugar and revive its Everglades restoration efforts.
Calling the proposed purchase of the U.S. Sugar Corp. risky and complex _ fraught with hundreds of millions of dollars in potential hidden costs for taxpayers _ regional water managers meeting in West Palm Beach said Wednesday they would not meet a November deadline to close the deal.
Busting a deadline that water managers set just 2 ½ months earlier doesn't necessarily mean the blockbuster buyout is in trouble. The district's chief negotiators and U.S. Sugar executives insist they are making good progress in a deal of unprecedented complexity _ the largest conservation land purchase in state history.
But Wednesday's daylong meeting _ the district's first detailed public discussion of the details of the mammoth land deal _ indicates the purchase isn't shaping up as the slam-dunk it seemed to be in June, when Gov. Charlie Crist touted the surprise proposal. While an initial contract with the nation's largest sugar grower still could be crafted by year's end, final approval by the water board now won't come until at least early 2009 and will be contingent on an array of still-unanswered questions.
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