Judge to decide next step in Everglades land deal

Water managers once hoped their plan to borrow as much as $2.2 billion for Gov. Charlie Crist's land deal with U.S. Sugar would breeze through judicial approval, setting aside just three hours for the hearing seven months ago.

On Thursday, the arguments finally ended in what turned out to be a months-long legal battle mounted by the Miccosukee Tribe and U.S. Sugar rival Florida Crystals Corp. Their challenge leaves the South Florida Water Management District plan to bankroll the $536 million land-buy with bonds — and perhaps the fate of the controversial Everglades restoration deal — in the hands of Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Donald Hafele.

Afterward, Eric Buermann, a Miami attorney who chairs the district's governing board, sounded confident that Hafele would approve a financing plan crucial to closing the purchase, though he admitted there was uncertainty about the full amount, largely because of a debt cap the Florida Legislature passed this year.

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