New Everglades deal: a bargain?

Saluting the spirit of late Everglades icon Marjory Stoneman Douglas, Gov. Charlie Crist on Wednesday hailed the $1.34 billion deal for a chunk of Big Sugar as ``nothing short of miraculous.''

It would, the governor declared outside Douglas' quaint Coconut Grove cottage, help save not just the Everglades but farming jobs and taxpayer dollars -- shaving 20-plus percent off what had been a $1.75 billion bid for the U.S. Sugar Corp.

But a few hours later and 65 miles north, South Florida water managers digging into the deal's details for the first time were not so gushing.

They questioned whether it really was a better bargain for taxpayers and how well it would protect agricultural jobs. Like Crist, they also invoked the past -- but as a warning, citing previous problematic deals to buy tracts for Everglades restoration and then lease them back to farmers.

The revised deal includes lease-back restrictions that would make almost all the land off-limits to the state for at least six years.

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