By: Tyler Treadway, Treasure Coast Newspapers
A 10-year-old plan for massive Everglades restoration ended Thursday with a whimper instead of a bang.
U.S. Sugar Corp. asked the South Florida Water Management District to cancel a contract that would have allowed the state to buy all 187,000 acres of the company's land south of Lake Okeechobee.
The deal, negotiated by then-Gov. Charlie Crist in 2008, is scheduled to expire in 2020. But the sugar company says construction of a reservoir and stormwater treatment area south of Lake Okeechobee makes the contract unnecessary.
So does the state law authorizing the EAA reservoir project in the Everglades Agricultural Area.
The law says the water district must terminate the contract, at the request of U.S. Sugar, if the project gets federal approval. Congress included the project in the Water Resources and Development Act signed by President Donald Trump in October.
"With this condition met and the requirement of the law fulfilled, there’s no need for the South Florida Water Management District to hang on to the remnants of a failed scheme," U.S. Sugar spokeswoman Judy Sanchez said in a prepared statement.
Re-create 'River of Grass'
When Crist announced the $1.8 billion deal June 24, 2008, environmentalists heralded it as a way to re-create the "River of Grass" flow-way between Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades, ending the toxic algae-causing discharges to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers and sending much-needed clean freshwater to Everglades National Park and Florida Bay.
But the real estate-fueled economic crash that began in fall 2008 dramatically cut the district's revenue flow from property taxes. And in 2010, the district ended up buying two parcels of U.S. Sugar land totaling about 28,000 acres for $197 million.
The contract included several options for the district to buy various amounts of land at various prices with various deadlines. The final option, to buy about 150,000 acres at "market value," has a deadline of October 2020…