Florida officials approve scaled-down Everglades land deal

Gov. Charlie Crist's bid to buy a massive swath of farmland for Everglades restoration won final approval Wednesday, with water managers endorsing a smaller, more affordable version of the controversial deal.

It would pay U.S. Sugar Corp. $536 million for 72,800 acres of sugar fields and citrus groves, with the goal of turning them into huge reservoirs and pollution treatment marshes to restore the flow of clean water to the River of Grass -- at an undetermined time and a price running into the billions. The governing board of the South Florida Water Management District, whose members came within a single vote of rejecting a previous $1.34 billion offer for 180,000 acres in December, passed the downsized version 6-1 with little debate or drama.

It was the last government hurdle for a landmark purchase Crist first pitched last year -- though lawsuits, an uncertain credit market and the shaky state economy still could derail it.

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