December 18, 2008

Hurdles ahead for U.S. Sugar land deal

Florida's lead negotiator in the $1.34 billion U.S. Sugar Corp. land deal said there were hurdles ahead financially and politically to keep the project viable.

We have a lot of work ahead, said Mike Sole, secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, The Miami Herald reported Thursday.

The trickiest task will be to keep state lawmakers from undermining the 180,000-acre purchase, which could escalate to a $3 billion deal once interest on loans are calculated, the newspaper said.

State lawmakers technically do not vote on the purchase, which was approved by the South Florida Water Management District Tuesday. But, several have criticized the project as too expensive.

Florida's legislators have called for the Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Committee to review the deal, which has been touted as a huge environmental coup, tying in water flows between Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades.

Counties are also wary of raising taxes. Miami-Dade County's bill for the project was estimated at $700 million. Broward County's bill could be $500 million.

At least from the governor's standpoint, there is no intent or desire to raise taxes, Sole said in a conference call Tuesday.