In what is being billed as one of the largest conservation deals in American history, U.S. Sugar Corp., the nation's largest producer of cane sugar, has agreed to sell 300 square miles of private inholdings within the Everglades to the state of Florida in order to help bring the famed "river of grass" back to life. According to the terms of the deal, the state will pay $1.75 billion for the land, and the company will phase out operations over six years and then go out of business entirely. Florida's governor Charlie Crist called the deal "as monumental as the creation of our nation's first national park, Yellowstone."
Once the land transfer is done, the state would protect the land—some 187,000 acres south of Lake Okeechobee—from future development, and would also build a network of reservoirs and marshes to filter water flowing through the area for the benefit of the wider Everglades ecosystem. The state is also offering to retrain the 1,700 U.S. Sugar employees who will be out of jobs once the transfer is done.
"This is a stunning development," said David Guest, an attorney with the non-profit Earthjustice, which has worked for decades on Everglades restoration. "Scientists have always said that this is one of the most important things we could do to solve the Everglades" problems."
The Everglades restoration is the largest project of its kind in the world, estimated to cost upwards of $8 billion, shared 50/50 by the state and federal governments, over three decades. While other sugar producers remain scattered throughout the region, the deal with U.S. Sugar gives conservationists a big boost in efforts to move the complex project forward.