Fla., U.S. Sugar Corp. Agree to New Terms for Everglades' Deal

Fla. Gov. Charlie Crist shared on April 1 details of a revised strategy to acquire land for Everglades restoration from the United States Sugar Corporation, according to an April 2 press release. The approach incorporates today's fiscal realities by saving $800 million at closing, providing ready access to strategically located acreage for restoration projects, and preserving thousands of jobs.

"By taking this fiscally conservative approach, we can secure this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to restore and revive the Everglades despite continued economic challenges," said Governor Crist. "The proposal represents a balance for both the environment and the economy by allowing us to acquire hundreds of square miles of prime property in affordable steps."

The proposed terms, which are subject to financing and approval by both the South Florida Water Management District Governing Board and the United States Sugar Corporation Board of Directors, would allow the district to fulfill the governor's vision to acquire huge parcels of agricultural land for Everglades restoration by purchasing 112 square miles of property immediately, with an option to purchase the remaining acreage when economic and financial conditions improve.

Under the proposal, the district would initially invest approximately $530 million for 72,500 acres of property south of Lake Okeechobee – a land mass nearly twice the size of Orlando. Approximately 32,000 acres of that land, currently in citrus production, would be available to the district within a year after closing. The United States Sugar Corporation would lease back the other approximately 40,500 acres of sugar cane land for $150 per acre per year for at least seven years. The district would have an option to purchase the remaining 107,500 acres of United States Sugar Corporation property for restoration within the first 10 years after closing.

Highlights of the proposed acquisition terms include:

  • Reducing the immediate public investment by 60 percent, or $800 million, in addition to reducing annual debt service payments by an estimated $65 million.
  • Tripling the land lease rate to $150 an acre per year to generate a minimum of $40 million in revenue and avoid at least $11 million in land management costs.
  • Sustaining regional agriculture.
  • Keeping 1,700 direct jobs intact and protecting 10,000 indirect jobs for at least another decade with the continued operation of the United States Sugar Corporation's mill and refinery.

U.S. Sugar Corporation agreed to the proposed amended terms for the South Florida Water Management District's acquisition that allow the district to acquire the company's land in two smaller phases and enable the company to continue its operations.

"The Governor's bold vision for our property remains the same as announced in June. We're just being realistic in light of the economy -- the acquisition will be made in two steps rather than one," said Robert Coker, senior vice president, Public Affairs. "Even so, this historic acquisition still provides great benefits for the environment and a fair value for our company."

"With property values and tax revenues falling, this became a matter of what the District realistically could afford," Coker said. "Obviously, neither party gets everything they wanted at closing, but over the next ten years the state can still acquire a large portion of historic Everglades and U.S. Sugar property can still provide the legacy footprint for significant restoration," Coker said.