MIAMI (CNN) - Florida Gov. Charlie Crist today announced the final terms of a deal with the U.S. Sugar Corporation that would give the state control of more than 180,000 acres of the Florida Everglades, and allow the company to remain in business.
Crist’s announcement of an $1.34 billion agreement to purchase of almost 300 square miles of land, which comes after months of negotiations, is billed as one of the largest environmental acquisitions in U.S. history.
The original terms of the deal would have resulted in the eventual closure of U.S. Sugar, but the new agreement — which lets the company retain much of its infrastructure, and continue to operate on its current land for several more years - may allow it to transition to new industries and preserve some local jobs.
Critics of the deal note that this purchase comes at a time that the state of Florida faces a budget shortfall, its already-precarious economic situation worsened by the nation’s financial crisis, which may limit its ability to raise the money to pay for the deal. If U.S. Sugar is not able to effectively re-focus its core business, the loss of the sugar industry could affect thousands of Florida workers. And the logistical challenge of restoring the Everglades remains a daunting one.
But the Everglades purchase has drawn praise from environmentalists – the same environmentalists who criticized Crist’s decision to support lifting the federal moratorium on drilling for oil off of the Florida coast. Scientists have called the land some of the most valuable in the Everglades, which they estimate has shrunk by half over the past hundred years.
Crist’s announcement comes as GOP governors gather in Miami to discuss how to rebuild the Republican Party.