Everglades reservoir puts sugar deal at risk, judge told

For decades, environmental groups have pushed to speed up Everglades restoration but on Tuesday they urged a federal judge in Miami not to step in and force the state to resume work on a key project halted in May.

The reason for the change in tune: Paying for a $700 million reservoir the size of Boca Raton could threaten state financing of a deal they consider even bigger for the Everglades -- the proposed $1.75 billion buyout of U.S. Sugar.

In a split with the Miccosukee Tribe, which had asked Chief U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno to order construction restarted on the stalled reservoir, lawyers for several of the state's biggest conservation groups argued the wait was worth it to secure a ''monumental'' purchase of 187,000 acres of sugar fields.

''It really is a new ball game,'' said Thom Rumberger, an attorney for Audubon of Florida.

``This is an opportunity to do some serious restoration. For that not to happen would really be a crime.''

Dexter Lehtinen, the tribe's attorney, called the land buy the latest state ''excuse'' to delay deadlines for cleaning up pollution damaging the Everglades.

He argued the deal could push back the reservoir and other projects to restore the flow of clean water back 15 years or more.

''Delay is the enemy of the Everglades,'' Lehtinen said. ``The Everglades is dead 15 years from now.''

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