After 2 1/2 years of political battle, Gov. Charlie Crist's deal to purchase tens of thousands of acres of land from U.S. Sugar Corp. for Everglades restoration is just days away from closing.
"It's been a real fight," said the South Florida Water Management District's director of real estate, Ruth Clements. "But we're ready for the final round."
She wore a pair of bright-red boxing gloves to help her make the point.
Friday, the SFWMD's board of governors, appointed by Gov. Crist, met with the district's attorneys behind closed doors to discuss the final settlement negotiations and strategize against potential future court rulings.
In the final deal, which is scheduled to close Oct. 12, taxpayers will pay U.S. Sugar Corp. $197,398,372.08 for 26,791 acres of citrus and sugar-cane land.
Opponents, including Florida Crystals Corp., the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians and the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida, say the land makes no sense for Everglades restoration. Political and taxpayer activist groups contend it amounts to a corporate bailout for U.S. Sugar Corp.
"It defies logic," said Barbara Miedema, vice president of the Sugar Cane Growers Co-op. "It's ridiculous."
Only a small portion of the nearly 27,000 acres can actually be used for Everglades restoration, according to critics. Supporters of the deal have acknowledged that it's not enough of the right land to make a difference now, and the district would have to acquire even more land in the future to have an impact in restoring the Everglades.
But while the money will be wire-transferred on Tuesday, the fight isn't over yet. Two separate federal legal wranglings between the United States EPA, the Florida DEP and the SFWMD could still affect the final outcome.