In June of 2008, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist proposed that the state save the Everglades by buying out its major landowner, United States Sugar. Crist claimed this move would be remembered as monumental moment similar to the creation of the nation’s first national park, Yellowstone. But now, the New York Times reports that Crist’s plan will focus more on saving on United States Sugar and not the famous wetlands.

The Everglades are subtropical wetlands that make up much of southern Florida. They are part of a complex system of interdependent ecosystems of cypress swamps and mangrove forests. It is home to several endangered plants and animals, including alligators, sea turtles, manatees, hardwood hammock trees and more. After a century of urban growth, dredging and drainage, preservationists have worked to find a deal that would ensure the survival of what is called a “river of grass.”

Many thought this deal came in 2008, when the state of Florida proposed to buy swaths of land from U.S. Sugar. In June 2008, Crist told the public, “I can envision no better gift to the Everglades, the people of Florida and the people of America — as well as our planet — than to place in public ownership this missing link that represents the key to true restoration.” The area, which included 187,000 acres of land, would be rehabilitated. As the NY Times reports, this came at a convenient time for the privately held U.S. Sugar, which was more than $500 million in debt by late 2007. 

The premise was that this deal would preserve the Everglades, which are slowly dying due to a lack of clean water. The NY Times reports that 49,000 acres of the United States Sugar land was contaminated with high levels of copper, DDT, selenium and other chemicals. Arsenic was also shown to exist at high levels. 

Then the recession hit. By April 2009, the state had downgraded its purchase to 72,800 acres of United States Sugar’s land at the reduced price of $536 million. The state intended to buy the remaining 107,000 acres at a future date. If this deal closes on March 31 as expected, it will eradicate the once-struggling company's financial woes. Further, United States Sugar will continue to farm the land for the next seven years.

Still, many environmentalists feel this new deal offers the Everglades its best hope. The NY Times article mentions that criticism has remained muted as most environmentalists, “do not want to say anything that might help kill what would be the largest land purchase ever for the Everglades.”

For further reading:

Deal may save the Everglades -- and a sugar firm
Gov. Charlie Crist's $536 million plan to save the Everglades has grown sweeter for United States Sugar.