Catbird seat? The 'rocking Chair’
By Joel Engelhardt
December 04, 2008
Since plans to buy U.S. Sugar were
announced in June, South Florida Water
Management District Director Carol Wehle has said that the path to restore
conglomerate, Florida Crystals.
That became evident in a map presented Tuesday by Ms. Wehle's agency. It
shows a wide swath of U.S. Sugar land on the southern border of
$1.34''billion buyout of U.S. Sugar, would be used for a giant reservoir to help
district staff, is narrow at the top, like the back of a rocker. Farther south, it
widens greatly to form the seat bottom.
Why isn't it wide all the way down? Refer to Ms. Wehle's comment: Such a
design would put the Okeelanta sugar mill, owned by U.S. Sugar rival Florida
Crystals, under water.
District staff said that it would take two to three years to develop a
restoration plan. But they've already placed a strict limit on brainstorming. The
Florida Crystals mill and a huge swath around it are off-limits.
Florida Crystals is taking advantage of that gift. On Wednesday,
next to the mill so that the company can compete for a warehouse district
called an inland port. The proposal depends on Florida Crystals winning a site
selection competition but would be just a first step toward setting aside up to
3,000 acres for an inland port.
The inland port holds the promise of jobs. To
jobs should be in
pursue them. But there's no guarantee that an inland port would work. And the
competition hasn't even begun. The changes initiated Wednesday simply give
Florida Crystals a better chance to be selected.
The unanswered question is whether that land would be better used for
restoration. It won't be up to restoration scientists. Just as they were told
years ago to restore the
begin this second chance with one option off the table.
Florida Crystals says moving its mill, or even swapping it for U.S. Sugar's mill in
Clewiston, is a deal-killer. And the district still needs to make a deal with
Florida Crystals. In fact, district officials said Tuesday, to accomplish
the "rocking chair" plan, they would need more non-U.S. Sugar land -- 60,000
to 65,000 acres -- than U.S. Sugar land -- 40,000 to 45,000 acres. Most of
those 65,000 acres are owned by Florida Crystals.
It's astonishing that the district would spend $1.34 billion to buy all of U.S.
Sugar's land -- 182,500 acres in
45,000 acres. Efforts to achieve even the restricted "rocking chair" plan put
Florida Crystals in the catbird seat.
In conceding the inland port to Florida Crystals, the water district could be
realistically assessing costs: Even in a $1.34''billion deal the prospect of
moving a mill may be too costly to entertain. Or the district could have been
cowed by Florida Crystals' lobbying might. Or perhaps the concession is the
district's good-cop approach to win critical trade-offs later.
If that's the case, the district is bumbling the routine. Florida Crystals Vice
President Gaston Cantens told the district board Tuesday that the company's
proposals have gone unanswered, and
give U.S. Sugar a lease at below-market rates to keep farming for seven
years. If the district wants to talk about land swaps, Mr. Cantens said, "Call us
in seven years."
With $1.34 billion at risk, seven years is too long to expect even the district to
wait. Try as they might to pacify Florida Crystals, it hasn't been enough.