December 02, 2008
Gov. Charlie Crist's
blockbuster plan to repair the
"We run the risk
right now of bailing out a private corporation instead of doing
The first public review of the proposed contract for the sweeping land purchase was marked by both fierce resistance and impassioned support of the landmark land deal - a more than seven-hour debate that included appeals from the likes of veteran Hobe Sound environmentalist Nat Reed and U.S. Sugar's powerful competitor, Florida Crystals Corp.
But a throng of
Glades-area farmers and leaders packed the district's meeting chambers in
"It's a train to nowhere, and the devil's driving the train," said Melanie McGahee, a Clewiston attorney.
Earlier in the day, a smaller sugar company warned that the deal would turn U.S. Sugar into a "super competitor" that would imperil its rivals.
Terms that would allow
U.S. Sugar to lease back much of its 180,000 acres from the state at $50 per
acre annually, while remaining in business for the next seven years, amount to
"government intervention" that would create "unfair competition,"
George Wedgworth said in a letter to state officials.
He is president and CEO of the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida, based
Wedgworth notes that the state's own appraiser valued such a lease at $220 per acre annually.
"The people we represent should not become the unintended consequence of a lofty environmental goal executed by a bad business deal," Wedgworth wrote.
Formed in 1960, the 47-member co-op represents the third-largest sugar producer in the state after U.S. Sugar and Florida Crystals Corp.
Wedgworth asked the state to allow open bidding on both the leases and any surplus land that the state eventually hopes to resell. He also offered to begin negotiating for the same lease at three times the proposed rate, $150 per acre annually.
U.S. Sugar has warned that the proposed contract, the result of five months of closed-door negotiations, will be scrapped unless the district's board votes to approve it by Dec. 16. U.S. Sugar's board is expected to vote on the contract Monday.
In June, Crist proposed buying out U.S. Sugar entirely for $1.75
billion and using its land to restore the