Everglades deal forced to shrink

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Charlie Crist’s celebrated $1.34 billion deal to buy 180,000 acres of U.S. Sugar Corp. land to help restore the Everglades is being scaled back by more than half because the state can’t afford the original deal, the governor announced Wednesday.

The reduction means the state will now buy 72,500 acres of land for $533 million, and hold a 10-year option to buy the remaining land. The decision means the original deal — hailed by environmentalists — will be far less ambitious than planned.

“The economy has been what it has been and we have to deal with the parameters that we are given,” Crist said.

U.S. Sugar, the nation’s largest cane sugar producer, owns a vast amount of land between Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades. Environmentalists have long criticized the sugar industry for cutting off the natural flow to the River of Grass and contaminating it with fertilizer.

The goal of the land purchase is to convert farm land into conservation land, allowing water managers to create a system to clean and store water before sending it south into the Everglades.