A historic effort to restore the dying Florida Everglades was scaled back yet again Wednesday, meaning the amount of land that will be purchased for protection is now about one-ninth the size originally planned.
The modified contract between the state and U.S. Sugar Corp. made public calls for an initial land purchase of 26,791 acres for about $197.4 million, a fraction of the deal announced by Gov. Charlie Crist in 2008.
The state had planned to pay $1.75 billion to buy all of U.S. Sugar's 180,000 acres. Under the revised deal, it would still maintain the option to purchase the remainder of the plan.
"The intent on both sides is still to complete the total 180,000 acres of land," said Judy Sanchez, a spokeswoman for U.S. Sugar. "You have to take the first step. You can't get to the end game without several steps along the way."
Though severely scaled back, the deal still garnered praise from some environmentalists.
"I like this deal because it's doable," said Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon of Florida. "It's more important that we do something now than spending another year arguing about how big and how much."
The South Florida Water Management District is scheduled to vote on the new contract Aug. 12. It would then need to be approved by U.S. Sugar's board.
The Everglades have been dying for decades from the intrusion of farms and development, dissected by dikes, dams and canals, effectively draining much of the swamp and polluting it with fertilizers and urban runoff. The state and federal governments' efforts to restore the wetlands have been stymied for years by funding shortfalls, legal challenges and political bickering.