State of Florida agrees to purchase U.S. Sugar to restore the Everglades

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The U.S. state of Florida entered an agreement on June 24, 2008 to purchase the U.S. Sugar Corporation, the largest manufacturer of cane sugar in the U.S., in an effort to restore the Everglades. Terms of the agreement stated that the purchase would be completed within 75 days, but that U.S. Sugar would be able to operate for another six years. After that, the state of Florida will retain ownership of U.S. Sugar's manufacturing facilities in Clewiston, Florida, and 187,000 acres of fields that have grown sugarcane since the 1960s will be allowed to return to their natural state.

U.S. Sugar and the state of Florida have been in legal disputes since the Everglades Forever Act was passed in 1994. The act was an attempt to clean up water tainted with phosphorus, a component of fertilizer, which runs off the sugarcane fields and into the Everglades.

Phosphorus alters Everglades ecosystems, allowing invasive and exotic cattails to replace sawgrass when levels rise above 50 parts per billion (ppb). Tests in the 1980s in the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge directly south of sugarcane fields indicated that the water had 500 ppb of phosphorus.