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U.S. Sugar Could Be Forced To Sell Land For Negron's Water Storage Plan South Of Lake Okeechobee

Sugarcane fields and stormwater treatment areas near the Everglades Agricultural Area.
Sugarcane fields and stormwater treatment areas near the Everglades Agricultural Area.

The U.S. Sugar Corporation could be required to sell land for a water storage plan proposed by Florida Senate President Joe Negron.

 

Senate Bill 10, filed last week, contains Negron's proposal to build one or more water storage reservoirs on 60,000 acres south of Lake Okeechobee. The reservoirs would help mitigate blue-green algae growth along Florida's coasts. Under the bill, the South Florida Water Management District would have until the end of 2017 to find a willing seller of 60,000 acres of land.

 

But if the water management district is unable to find a willing seller in that timeframe, the state could choose to buy 153,000 acres of land from U.S. Sugar -- whether or not the company wants to sell. That's under an option contract signed by the company and the state in 2010.

 

The option requires U.S. Sugar to sell the 153,000 acres to the state if the state wants it. But it's an all-or-nothing deal, so the state would have to purchase all 153,000 acres -- well more than the 60,000 acres Negron's proposing.

 

In a statement, U.S. Sugar said it does not want to sell the land and was not consulted about the option being included in Negron’s proposal.

 

"It's as surprising to us as it was to everyone else,” U.S. Sugar spokeswoman Judy Sanchez wrote in an email.

 

Negron and supporters of the bill emphasize the goal is to find willing land sellers, rather than turning to the option. Sen. Rob Bradley, the chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Environment and Natural Resources, filed the bill on Negron's behalf.

 

"My goal in filing this legislation is to explore all available options for the voluntary purchase of land to deliver this much needed and long anticipated storage," Bradley said in a press release.

 

Gov. Rick Scott did not include funding for Negron’s southern storage plan in his proposed budget. But Negron says he’s willing to push for funds.

Earlier this week, Negron  left his job as a lawyer who works on business and environment cases to avoid any potential conflicts of interest. He also says he’s willing to consider land that doesn’t belong to sugar companies.

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