Scaled-down Florida-U.S. Sugar land deal approved for Everglades restoration

All the familiar critics turned out Thursday to blast Gov. Charlie Crist's no-longer-so-big sugar land purchase as a bad deal that could wind up hurting Everglades restoration more than it would help it.

They were joined by a few fresh faces: Tea Party protesters and Rick Scott, the multi-millionaire Republican gubernatorial candidate. Scott charged that rival Bill McCollum, the state's attorney general, had cut a ``secret deal'' with the U.S. Sugar Corp. Under the deal, the district would pay U.S. Sugar $197 million cash for 26,800 acres, most of it citrus groves.

The political sideshow in West Palm Beach did nothing to alter the outcome of the vote by the South Florida Water Management District's governing board. The board members, all Crist appointees, did what they have done when weighing three previous, much larger and much more expensive versions of the purchase. They agreed in a unanimous 6-0 vote -- with three members absent, abstaining or ill -- that the state could not pass up the rare opportunity to buy so much land for Everglades restoration.

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