SFWMD declines option to buy sugar land

South Florida Water Management District’s (SFWMD) Governing Board made a unanimous decision not to exercise the option to purchase roughly 46,800 acres of U.S. Sugar-owned land in Hendry County.

The decision was made at the board’s last regular meeting on May 14. The option to purchase the land, which would have been used to store water from Lake Okeechobee that would have otherwise been sent to the Caloosahatchee or St. Lucie estuaries, was set to expire this October.

Environmental groups had been advocating for the purchase of the sugar-owned land to send water south to the Everglades.

U.S. Sugar Corporation had previously cited that the land in question was not large enough to store enough water to make the costly option viable.

Judy Sanchez, senior director of Corporate Communications and Public Affairs for U.S. Sugar, called the potential water storage capability of the 46,800 acres a “drop in the bucket.”

SFWMD board members said the decision was made in part because the board wanted to spend money completing Everglades Restoration projects already underway in numerous locations throughout South Florida.

The initial option to purchase would have cost tax-payers anywhere from $500 to $700 million, not including the potential billions of dollars it would take to turn the land into a reservoir.

In a statement, U.S. Sugar said it wasn’t surprised SFWMD declined the option to purchase its land, but that it will continue to partner in future Everglades Restoration projects.

“It is not surprising that the Governing Board’s legal action last week formalized what the district, the governor and the legislature have been saying for several years — that their priority for Everglades and estuary ecosystem restoration is completing a $5 billion slate of projects that are already planned and approved and will provide real benefits for the environment throughout the 16-county region. U.S. Sugar intends to continue to partner in Everglades restoration efforts. In fact, we commit to working with state and federal parties, as well as willing environmental organizations, in advancing the restoration projects outlined in the governor’s 20-year plan,” said the company in a statement released Monday.
More information about current Everglades Restoration projects can be found at www.sfwmd.gov.

Staff writer Melissa Beltz can be reached at 863-983-9148 or mbeltz@newszap.com.

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