A $1.75 billion land purchase by the state of Florida is more than just the latest step in restoring the Everglades ecosystem. The complicated deal is also bringing together two former legal foes: Edward Almeida, the general counsel of United States Sugar Corp., and Eric Buermann, an attorney who chairs the board of the South Florida Water Management District.
On June 24 Gov. Charlie Crist announced that his state would buy 187,000 acres of farmland in central Florida from U.S. Sugar. The deal will put the Clewiston, Fla.-based company out of business. The state plans to use the land to restore the overflow of water from Lake Okeechobee in central Florida to the state’s southern tip. For ages the spillover produced the unique environment of the Everglades, also known as the River of Grass. But starting in the 1920s, manmade changes to the landscape — including sugar plantations and a dike around the lake — blocked the flow of water.
This summer, lawyers for U.S. Sugar and the water management district (which is overseeing the purchase by the state) were busy finalizing the details of the deal. Both U.S. Sugar’s Almeida and the district’s Buermann say that the transaction is extremely complicated, involving some land swaps with another sugar producer that holds some contiguous acres, the spinning off assets such as a new U.S. Sugar refinery, and a schedule that will allow the company and its 1,700 employees to phase out their operations over the next six years.
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