The latest twist in the U.S. Sugar land deal comes too late to matter much right now. A Nov. 18 Florida Supreme Court ruling says the South Florida Water Management District can finance the land deal using bonds because it would serve a public purpose -- Everglades restoration. But the district has already bought the land, albeit a lot less of it than originally intended, using all of its cash reserves.
What a saga this has been. Gov. Charlie Crist surprised everyone in 2008 by announcing plans to buy U.S. Sugar land, more than 180,000 acres, for $1.75 billion. The purpose was to use the land to help the ambitious and costly joint state-federal restoration agreement.
The Miccosukee Indian Tribe, Florida Crystals and the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida sued to stop the deal. They said the proposed purchase took funding away from restoration projects already on the books. The plan was seen by many critics as a bailout for U.S. Sugar.
But it was hard to argue against taking so much land out of cultivation -- even though that wouldn't have happened immediately. Under the terms of the Crist deal, the district would have bought the land and leased it back to U.S. Sugar until it had the money to convert it to water storage areas and cleanup projects.
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