SCCF Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation

 

EAA / U.S. Sugar Land Purchase

 

http://www.sccf.org/content/142/EAA-Land-Purchase.aspx

 

 

Reviving the River of Grass is the SFWMD's initiative to incorporate the U.S. Sugar land purchase into Everglades restoration plans.  Learn more at our River of Grass page.

 

Financing the U.S. Sugar land purchase

 

The purchase will be financed through certificates of participation (COP's) but in an attempt to block the U.S. Sugar deal, a legal challenge based on a procedural issue has been filed. 

To learn more about COP's, click here. For a SFWMD editorial about the legal challenge, click here.

 

Brief history of the deal

 

On May 13, 2009, the SFWMD Governing Board voted to approve the revised agreement.

On April 1, 2009, Governor Crist announced a change to the U.S. Sugar deal necessitated by the current state of the economy and declining ad valorum tax revenue. In the previous deal, the district would have paid $1.34 billion for 180,000 acres. The new deal calls for the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) to buy 72,500 acres for $533 million with an option to purchase an additional 107,500 acres within 10 years.

 

The new deal triples the lease back rate that U.S. Sugar will pay to continue to farm the land until the state is ready to begin construction. The revised rate of $150 per acre is more in line with the market values and addresses some of the concerns expressed by the agricultural community and the legislature. Approximately 40,500 acres are currently in sugarcane production, with the balance of 32,000 acres in citrus.

 

The deal reduces the immediate investment by 60% or $800 million and reduces the annual debt service from $108 million to $43 million per year. While some have expressed concern over the reduced deal we celebrate the commitment of all the parties who worked to find a more affordable alternative to keep this historic opportunity alive.

 

Since June 2008 when the Governor announced the first deal, the condition of the economy and financial markets made the deal increasingly unaffordable.

 

April 2009 SFWMD map showing the U.S. Sugar Corp. parcels that would part of the current sale (dark green).  Click here for a PDF showing how those lands are currently used:  sugar, citrus, etc.

 

This new deal is a better deal with flexibility to allow the District to fund other planned restoration projects while assuring a future opportunity to flow water south to relieve the rivers and estuaries.

 

March 26, 2009

The U.S. Sugar deal will probably be downsized, from $1.34 billion to around $500 million.  To read about it in the March 26 Palm Beach Post, click here.

 

The SFWMD is holding River of Grass workshops throughout south Florida to discuss the U.S.Sugar land purchase.  Upcoming meetings in southwest Florida are:  3/20 in LaBelle; 3/31 - 4/1 in Royal Palm Beach; 4/16 in Fort Myers; 5/19 in Clewiston; 7/14 in LaBelle.  For specifics, please see our Events Calendar.

 

SCCF joined with 17 other environmental organizations in making recommendations to Governor Crist for sustainable economic development in the Everglades Agricultural Area, including the inland port. 

Read the letter, dated January 28, 2009.

 

On December 16, 2008, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) Governing Board voted to accept a proposal to acquire more than 180,000 acres of agricultural land for Everglades restoration from the United States Sugar Corporation, contingent upon a specific amendment to the negotiated purchase and sale contract.  For more information from the SFWMD Reviving the River of Grass website, click here.

 

Letter from Governor Crist to the Governing Board urging approval of the purchase, dated December 15, 2008

 

SCCF Letter to SFWMD Governing Board Chair Eric Buermann regarding the U.S. Sugar Purchase & Sale Contract, dated December 10, 2008

 

For more information on the U.S. Sugar land purchase as a follow-up on the SCCF Conservation Notes column in the Dec. 11, 2008  Island Reporter, click here.

 

For more information on the U.S. Sugar land purchase, the SFWMD has added the presentations and video from the Dec. 2, 2008 Governing Board meeting to their Reviving the River of Grass website:

 

Website:    www.sfwmd.gov/riverofgrass

December 2 Presentations/Videos:  https://my.sfwmd.gov/portal/page?_pageid=2814,22134068&_dad=portal&_schema=PORTAL

 

 

Obama Economic Stimulus Package Should Include Everglades

 

 

Everglades restoration is a 50-50 partnership between the State and Federal government. However, the state has paid much more of the bill than the Federal government has invested. The U.S. Sugar purchase is entirely a state commitment. To help achieve funding parity between State and Federal governments, the Everglades Foundation and its partner members – including SCCF -- have submitted a letter to our Federal Florida delegation requesting federal funding of Everglades projects through the current stimulus package. In addition, Everglades Foundation member organizations are working with the Obama transition team to prioritize and hopefully enhance Federal participation in Everglades restoration.

 

 

Letter to Senator Bill Nelson re Federal Funding for Everglades restoration:  Page 1;  Page 2.

Resolution of the 10 County Coalition regarding the U.S. Sugar land purchase, dated August 29, 2008

What is the 10 County Coalition?

Letter from Florida environmental groups (including SCCF) to Senator Mel Martinez re purchase, Sept. 12, 2008

July - August 2008 Member Update:

Last week we were witness to an initiative of monumental proportion that opens a whole new chapter in the history of Everglades restoration. On June 24, 2008 Governor Charlie Crist held a press conference at Stormwater Treatment Area 1 -- on the edge of the A.R. Marshall/Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge -- to announce the purchase of 187,000 acres or 292 square miles of land in the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) from U.S. Sugar Corporation. The purchase, more than twice the size of Orlando, is being called a once-in-a-generation opportunity and a critical missing link in achieving fundamental restoration.

 

The announcement featured the signing of a “Statement of Principles” that will guide the negotiations and transfer of land and improvements – including a rail line, sugar refining facility and office equipment. The deal, which is scheduled to close in November, will allow U.S. Sugar to continue operations for six years, at which point the 77-year-old company would close.

 

What it means:

This purchase represents an opportunity to restore historic water flow south out of Lake Okeechobee to and through the Everglades, Everglades National Park and Florida Bay. This alone accomplishes a central, critical function of Everglades Restoration that the current plan - the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) (a/k/a the “Yellow Book”) did not achieve. It could restore hydrology to a portion of the historic Everglades wetland system, allowing natural wetland systems to re-emerge to treat the water as it sheet flows south, feeding water to the Park and Florida Bay, long starved for freshwater.

 

For the river and estuaries, it could provide a relief valve from damaging high water flows by re-establishing an historic flowway outlet for water from the lake. It is estimated that 85% of the excess flows could be eliminated. This new development removes a huge impediment to restoration planning that the CERP plan had to work around. As displayed on the map, parcels owned by U.S. Sugar are spread across the EAA, so creation of a flowway will require swapping of parcels. Toward that end, discussions are underway with Florida Crystals Corp. about swapping parcels so the State could purchase a contiguous swath of land.

 

What happens to the current plan?

This will take time to study. A direct result is that the restoration planning will need to be reopened to evaluate projects for their function under a new landscape plan. We may finally be able to purge some doomed projects such as aquifer storage and recovery (ASR). Other alternatives previously not considered could be re-examined, some projects may need to be changed and others may be reprioritized. We will continue to work closely with the planning and re-evaluation efforts to assure that west coast alternatives are evaluated.

 

Behind the scenes - How it came about?

Central to this development are Governor Crist's appointees to the SFWMD Governing Board, a federal lawsuit by Earth justice over backpumping from the EAA into Lake Okechobee and pressure from all quarters of the environmental community over water quality degradation. Credit is being given to Earth justice, who last year sued in Federal Court over the parctice of backpumping excess water from the EAA into lake Okeechobee. The court found that the backpumping constituted a violation of Federal water law and would require a storwater (NPDES) permit. Following this decision, the Governing Board in a close vote decided to discontinue backpumping. The vote was carried by Governor Crist's appointees. As a result of this action, U.S. Sugar Corp. lobbyists appealed to Governor Charlie Crist about water restrictions in Lake Okeechobee and other pressures on farming in the EAA. At the meeting, Governor Crist asked about a buyout and the plan was hatched.

 

Map of the Everglades and the EAA, with U.S. Sugar Corp. parcels highlighted in orange.

 

Governor Charlie Crist announcing the purchase on June 24.

 

SFWMD Governing Board Vice Chair, Shannon Estenoz with SCCF's Erick Lindblad following the announcement.

Next steps:

 

The first change to occur was the resignation of Water Management District Governing Board member Malcolm "Bubba" Wade, Jr., a senior vice president with U.S. Sugar. This will leave a position open for a new Governing Board member, who will be representing 10 counties including Lee, Hendry and Glades. The District Governing Board met on June 30 and voted to adopt the "Statement of Principles" which will guide the negotiations (see below for a link to the document).

 

By November, the deal is scheduled to close. In the meantime, work will begin to evaluate projects and alternatives to determine how CERP, Acceler8 and Northern Everglades projects will proceed. Stay tuned!

 

 

Statement of Principles

Attached is the Statement of Principles which will guide the negotiations. It was signed on June 24, and was approved by the SFWMD Governing Board on June 30. Statement of Principles: http://sccf.org/files/content/docs/ROG_PRINCIPLES.PDF

 

 

Media coverage

 

See links:

 

The New York Times, editorial on June 26

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/26/opinion/26thu2.html?_r=1&scp=3&sq=everglades&st=nyt&oref=slogin

 

St. Pete Times, June 25

http://www.tampabay.com/news/environment/wetlands/article641405.ece

 

The New York Times, June 25

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/25/us/25everglades.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

 

The News-Press, Wednesday, June 25

http://news-press.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080625/GREEN/80624082/-1/testhurricane&referrer=NEWSFRONTCAROUSEL

 

The News-Press, Tuesday, June 24:

http://news-press.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080624/GREEN/806240387/1075

 

Palm Beach Post, Monday, June 23:

http://www.palmbeachpost.com/localnews/content/local_news/epaper/2008/06/23/0623_ussugardeal.html