Originally hyped by then-Governor Charlie Crist and environmentalists as the largest land deal in Florida history, a pact to pay U.S. Sugar nearly two billion dollars to purchase 187,000 acres of land south of Lake Okeechobee just received the proverbial “final nail” in its coffin. The deal itself became contentious during the 2010 governor’s race, when then-candidate Rick Scott made his views clear during the Republican primary contest against Bill McCollum.
“The deal is terrible for taxpayers,” Scott announced at a campaign rally on August 12, 2010. He went on to label the transaction “a sweetheart deal” and said it was an “irresponsible” use of taxpayer dollars. There was no stated need or purpose for the land.
The deal went through several iterations over the past eight years as the South Florida Water Management District struggled to find any reason to follow through with Crist’s grandiose plan, which never had any grounding in restoration reality. Now, for the good of taxpayers and a whole slate of actually planned and scientifically designed water storage and treatment projects, Crist’s fanciful land buying spree is finally officially dead.
One of the provisions in Senate Bill 10, passed during the 2017 legislative session with broad support from environmentalists, stipulated that the agreement would be terminated if certain conditions were met. Earlier today, U.S. Sugar issued a press releasing announcing that in mid-October, Congress had approved the key requirement from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which fulfilled a necessary provision in SB10 allowing for the agreement to be terminated. Today, the company requested the District terminate that agreement.
Terminating the state’s final option fulfills another campaign promise by outgoing Governor Rick Scott. With just over a month remaining in his final term, it could be the last gubernatorial campaign promise he delivers.
Here’s U.S. Sugar’s official announcement:
For Immediate Release
November 29, 2018
Contact: Judy C. Sanchez
Statement on Federal Approval, Continued Momentum on EAA Reservoir and Termination of the State’s Option Agreement
Clewiston, Fla. – U.S. Sugar spokeswoman Judy Sanchez, Senior Director for Corporate Communications and Public Affairs, today released the following statement regarding the state’s option agreement with U.S. Sugar:
“Many compromises were made to pass Senate Bill 10, bringing together advocates for agriculture and the environment. As part of that compromise, the EAA reservoir is being constructed well ahead of schedule and now, in accordance with SB 10 (F.S. 373.4598(6)), the state’s option agreement can be terminated.
Congress has approved a Post Authorization Change Report (PACR), fulfilling a necessary requirement that now allows U.S. Sugar to terminate the state’s pending option agreement. With this condition met and the requirement of the law fulfilled, there’s no need for the South Florida Water Management District to hang on to the remnants of a failed scheme. These approximately 150,000 acres of U.S. Sugar’s actively productive farm land were never slated for any planned or approved restoration project.
U.S. Sugar will continue to support the EAA Reservoir project, the Florida Legislature, the South Florida Water Management District and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as they move forward to build and operate the projects that will store, clean and convey more water south of Lake Okeechobee to reduce discharges, protect our coastal estuaries and the Florida Everglades.”
“The district must terminate the option agreement at the request of the seller if: (a) The post-authorization change report receives congressional approval; or (b) The district certifies to the board, the President of the Senate, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives that the acquisition of the land necessary for the EAA reservoir, as provided in subsection (4), has been completed.”
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Here’s a timeline of how the deal changed over the past eight years:
- Charlie Crist announces blockbuster deal for Florida to buy-out U.S. Sugar for $1.75 billion
- Florida is hit hard by a housing market recession and cannot afford to complete the deal
- Crist announces the first of several scaled-back deals
- Florida considers small option to buy 20k acres of U.S. Sugar’s land
- Scott attacks rival Bill McCollum over the deal, holds news conference calling it “irresponsible”
- State buys 20k acres, creates medium option of 47k acres and large option of 150k acres that expires in 2020
- Legislature rejects 47k acre option
- State passes SB 10, allowing for 150k option to be terminated once Congress approves the EAA reservoir
- Environmental groups praise the deal
Fall / Winter 2018:
- Congress approves EAA reservoir
- U.S. Sugar exercises option to terminate the agreement per the provisions in SB10