By Bruce Ritchie
The South Florida Water Management District board today voted 4-3 to acquire more than 180,000 acres of agricultural land for Everglades restoration from the United States Sugar Corp., contingent upon an amendment to the negotiated purchase and sale contract.
According to the district, the state will buy the land for $1.34 billion. Under a separate agreement, U.S. Sugar would lease and manage the land for agricultural operation for seven years, helping the district avoid more than $40 million in land management costs.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to acquire land in the Everglades Agricultural Area for restoration,” district board Chairman Eric Buermann said in an agency news release. “The immense environmental benefit of these lands and their value to Florida’s unique Everglades ecosystem cannot be overstated.”
“This land acquisition is the most important step in the history of true Everglades restoration,” Gov. Charlie Crist said in a statement. “Today’s action is a result of the courage and tenacity of so many, and I thank God for the vision and leadership of those who brought us to this moment.”
“We are pleased the (board) voted yes to purchase U.S. Sugar’s land in the Everglades Agricultural Area for Everglades restoration, and we look forward to working to ensure money is identified to fund the contract,” Audubon of Florida Executive Director David Anderson said.