U.S. Sugar agrees to smaller Everglades restoration plan

Clewiston-based U.S. Sugar Corp. has agreed to proposed changes that would allow the South Florida Water Management District to acquire the company’s land in two smaller phases for Everglades restoration and enable the company to continue operating.

“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, the company’s senior vice president for public affairs, in a news release. “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,” he said. “Obviously, neither party gets everything they wanted at closing, but over the next 10 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.”

Under the proposed amendments to the agreement, the water management district would acquire an initial 72,500 acres of the company’s land for about $530 million, with an option to acquire the remaining 107,500 acres for up to 10 years. The company would continue to farm the 72,500 acres through a seven-year lease that may be extended under certain conditions.

“The two-step approach provides a greater degree of certainty for our businesses, our employees and also our communities by keeping our farming and processing operations viable,” Coker said.

U.S. Sugar will lease back the cane land for $150 per gross acre for the initial seven-year period, he said. The water management district can take 32,000 acres of citrus land with one year’s notice and also may take up to 10,000 acres of cane land in the first 10 years with a two-year notice for approved and funded projects.

Up to 3000 acres of transition lands may be transferred to local municipalities immediately if the land is not in sugarcane production.

The revised agreement must still be approved by U.S. Sugar’s board of directors and the water management district’s governing board.

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