Saturday, March 13, 2010

Crist's Everglades Land Purchase: Boon or Boondoggle?

The New York Times ran an article Monday on Florida's $536 million deal to purchase 72,800 acres from United States Sugar.  The article highlights what critics of the deal are saying, that because of down-sizing the purchase Florida taxpayers will be paying too much for land United States Sugar has hand picked to get rid of, and Governor Charlie Crist is pushing the downsized deal to help save his chances in the U. S. Senate race this fall.  The fact that Senator George LeMieux's old law firm, Gunster, represents United States Sugar indicates the principal players have been cozy from the start.  Recall that Governor Crist appointed Mr. LeMieux to the senate seat Governor Crist is running for this fall.  Critics contend the original $1.75 billion deal was $400 million more than the market value of the property and downsizing it has not corrected this overpricing but exacerbated it.  The way the deal stands now, critics point out, the only parties that will profit are United States Sugar and its attorneys.

Environmental groups still support the purchase plan saying this a unique opportunity to purchase a significant amount of agricultural land to aid in Everglades restoration.  They want the deal to go through pointing out that Florida will have an option to purchase 107,000 additional acres in the future when the economy gets back on its feet.  Critics point out the problem with this is that the South Florida Water Management District will not have enough money to properly develop these parcels for Everglades restoration, and in fact has already stopped work on other restoration projects to divert funds to the purchase.  Have environmentalists focused too much on the end result and not on how we get there?

Everglades restoration should go ahead as fast as it can be done.  However we should be getting our money's worth and should be funding those projects that produce the highest return soonest.  I would love to have assurance that Governor Crist's land purchase from United States Sugar meets that criteria, but I don't get the feeling that it does.

PS:  Here's another NY Times article.