The Florida Supreme Court last Thursday unanimously approved a financing plan that will allow the South Florida Water Management District to purchase a chunk of Everglades land from U.S. Sugar. The “Sugar Deal,” as it has come to be known, has been scaled back considerably since its inception. The original proposal would have allowed the district to buy 73,000 acres with $536 million in bonds. Last month, the agency bought only 27,000 acres with $194 million in cash.
Thursday’s ruling will allow for the use of bonds to buy more than 46,000 acres of land to restore the Everglades. The Miccosukee Tribe of Indians had argued that the deal would not serve a public purpose, a claim that Justice Peggy Quince shot down in her court ruling: “The district has authority to acquire land to further the objective of conserving and protecting water and water-related resources. This objective has been deemed a ‘public purpose’ by the Legislature.”
Florida Crystals Corp. and the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida also argued against the ruling, saying it would only divert resources from Everglades restoration. In a statment to Sunshine State News, Gaston Cantens, a senior executive at Florida Crystals Corp., expressed his displeasure with outgoing Gov. Charlie Crist’s hand in the ruling: “We have over 11 percent unemployment. Instead of building projects and creating jobs, the governor is going out and spending money on land he doesn’t even know what we’re going to do with.”
In a statement, Crist spoke of his approval of the high court’s ruling:
I am pleased that the Florida Supreme Court today upheld the South Florida Water Management District’s authority to issue Certificates of Participation for the purchase of 73,000 acres from U.S. Sugar. Florida continues its steadfast commitment to the restoration of America’s Everglades and the entire South Florida ecosystem. The Supreme Court’s decision allows for the potential acquisition of additional lands, as provided for in its order, beyond the 26,800 acres purchased in October, needed to restore this complex natural system, provide long-term benefits for our environment and maintain a high quality of life for millions of Floridians.