July 12, 2008

Tribe: Keep Up Work on Glades

By Curtis Morgan, The Miami Herald

Jul. 12--In a legal step that could complicate the state's bid to buy U.S. Sugar Corp., the Miccosukee Tribe on Friday said it will ask a federal judge to block water managers' plans to delay a massive Everglades reservoir.

On Thursday, the South Florida Water Management District's governing board gave preliminary approval to financing the $1.75 billion sugar deal. The 300 square miles of land are key to a plan intended to improve water storage and pollution treatment for Everglades restoration.

But the proposal also calls for delaying other projects, including a reservoir the size of Boca Raton in western Palm Beach County -- at least until planners decide what to do with sugar tracts.

Tribe attorney Dexter Lehtinen said there was "no justification for abandoning Everglades restoration."

Lehtinen filed a motion asking U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno to "compel" the water management district to keep building the reservoir. Moreno oversees a 1992 state-federal settlement agreement that required the state to clean up farm and suburban pollution flowing into the Glades.

Lehtinen said the buyout proposal, which would allow U.S. Sugar to continue farming for six years or more, puts both cleanup and restoration in indefinite limbo.

"They're always promising something 10 years from now and they're never doing it now," he said.

"The Everglades is dying now and we need restoration now."

Gabe Margasak, a spokesman for the water district, said the agency had not yet had time to review the motion, but he noted the board had not yet formally approved the deal.

"While we haven't seen the motion, we definitely remain committed to restoring the Everglades using all the resources we can," he said.

The district board first halted construction on the reservoir in June, citing a lawsuit by environmental groups. Stopping the work meant paying a $1.9 million monthly suspension fee to the contractor for up to six months.

On Thursday, the board voted to keep the project on hold, approving a resolution that called the land deal an "unanticipated and extraordinary opportunity" that could force substantial modifications to Everglades projects.


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