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Politics

Water Board Votes to Purchase U.S. Sugar Land Without Waiting for Judge

August 11, 2010 - 6:00pm

A month ago, the South Florida Water Management District Board said they didn't want to make a decision on Gov. Charlie Crist's U.S. Sugar land deal until they heard more fromthe federal judges who are making decisions that could affect the deal.

Those judges have yet to make their decisions, but Wednesday the board voted anyway to use about $200 million, nearly all their cash reserves, to go ahead with the purchase.

In March, a judge ruled that the decision to resume an Everglades reservoir project had been put on hold because of the sugar land deal, but the decision was appealed. Now, the judge's final decision is only waiting on a report from the Special Master.

Supporters say the deal is good for the environment and the recently reduced acreage and cost should appease taxpayers, but both of those claims are disputed by opponents of the deal.

"The land is improperly, badly located. They have no money to build anything on it when they waste the money to buy [it]," said Dexter Lehtinen, a former attorney for the Miccosukee Tribe. "They did not do appraisals, they don't know the value of it. And they've abandoned the congressionally mandated restoration projects."

Skeptics say the roughly 27,000 acres of land is not in a location, nor is it nearly enough, to help restore a natural flow to the Everglades. SFWMD Board Chairman Eric Buermann acknowledges that, saying it would be used in a series of pumps to clean the water and transport it from the north to the south. Other supporters, like Jonathan Ullman from the National Sierra Club say this smaller land purchase will open the door for the district to buy the rest of U.S. Sugar's land, which it would need to do to even begin to have the impact environmentalists are hoping for.

Watch the video package to hear the arguments.

Lane Wright can be reached at lane@sunshinestatenews.com or 561-247-1063.

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