Last week, Florida’s Governor, Charlie Christ, unveiled a strategy to provide the missing link to restoring Florida’s River of Grass. A plan for a $1.75 billion purchase of U.S. Sugar Corporation’s property – up to 187,000 acres of agricultural land that can be used to re-establish the connection between Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades with a system of managed storage and treatment. 

Today, the South Florida Water Management District took the next step towards one of the largest environmental land purchases in Florida’s history by ratifying the “Statement of Principles” that was signed with U.S. Sugar Corporation.  This allows the detailed and confidential purchase negotiations to begin.

As proposed, U.S. Sugar will have the right to continue farming the land for the next 6 years.

The acquisition of the property will reduce harmful freshwater discharges from Lake Okeechobee to Florida’s coastal rivers and estuaries while reducing phosphorus and improving water quality entering the Everglades.

As always, there are trade-offs with the deal. Some important water storage projects along the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers will be delayed.  And the residents of Palm Beach County will lose $5.4 million in property taxes when U.S. Sugar’s property goes to the State–at a time when revenues are already taking a hit due to tax reform and a drop in tourism.