The latest volley in the political battle over Gov. Charlie Crist's controversial $536 million land deal with the U.S. Sugar Corp. was fired Tuesday in the form of a poll bankrolled by its strongest supporters.
Commissioned by the Everglades Foundation, the poll took dead aim at the Florida Crystals Corp., a rival grower and leading critic of the governor's land deal.
It found 75 percent of 600 likely voters statewide backed the 73,000-acre purchase and 78 percent supported "strict land-use controls" to block residential or commercial development in the farm belt southeast of Lake Okeechobee.
Crystals has a parcel of farm land in play for a proposed "inland port," one of four sites contending for a transportation and shipping hub that the Port of Palm Beach Commission is scheduled to select Wednesday.
Kirk Fordham, chief executive officer of the Everglades Foundation, said the group wanted to gauge public opinion on Everglades restoration, the governor's bid to buy sugar fields for future restoration projects and other "current issues."
"The fact that the numbers are so strong against development in the area surprised me in this economic climate," Fordham said.
But Gaston Cantens, a spokesman for Florida Crystals, dismissed the results and called the timing of the release an "outrageous attempt to manipulate public opinion in order to hurt us."
Any statewide poll dilutes strong regional support for development, he said. "Seventy-five percent of Florida do not know who Florida Crystals is, much less that we're proposing any inland port."
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