Florida Crystals Corp. is pushing back against an environmental coalition seeking to attach the purchase of U.S. Sugar property south of Lake Okeechobee to voter-approved Amendment 1, saying such an effort could “derail” ongoing Everglades improvement projects. Florida Crystals sent out a statement Friday afternoon criticizing the Everglades Trust’s earlier announcement that the organization will continue to urge lawmakers to support the sugar-land buy.
“The state cannot allow the Everglades Foundation to once again derail restoration,” Florida Crystals Vice President Gaston Cantens said in a release. “It was only a short time ago that the Foundation coerced a Florida governor into stopping meaningful projects in order to waste restoration dollars on needless land acquisition. The state has more than 100,000 acres already in public ownership for Everglades restoration. It’s time to stay the course and use that land for restoration work.”
Florida Crystals instead wants the state to follow the $880 million long-term Everglades restoration plan (HB 7065) approved by Gov. Rick Scott and legislators in 2013, which steers $32 million a year toward cleaning up water run-off from South Florida farms. The Everglades Trust wants lawmakers to designate about $350 million to purchase 46,800 acres, including 26,100 acres to be used for construction of the Everglades Agricultural Area reservoir.
The state has until Oct. 12 to sign off on the deal or would have to buy an additional 157,000 acres to get land for the reservoir. The agreement, which took two years to complete, was signed by former Gov. Charlie Crist in 2010. The trust considers the deal the only option immediately available to send and store water from Lake Okeechobee south through the Everglades. The money would come from the voter-approved constitutional amendment, expected to generate about $757 million this year for land and water maintenance and preservation. Lawmakers will have to divvy up the money during the 60-day regular session that begins Tuesday.