TALLAHASSEE The Florida Wildlife Federation is suing Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet over Everglades restoration land deals that enable two major farming companies to get no-bid, long-term leases for 14,000 acres in western Palm Beach County.
The disputed leases, approved in January, were part of a collection of state land purchases and trades aimed at acquiring farmland that could be used to store and clean up stormwater needed to replenish the Everglades.
But several environmental groups objected to the deal also allowing polluting agricultural operations to remain in place for 30 years on the 14,000 acres of state-owned land that was once part of the Everglades.
"We should be using these public lands to clean up the Everglades, not allowing corporations to continue to pollute our public lands," the federation's attorney David Guest said Thursday.
The renewed leases are held by two major South Florida sugar growers, A. Duda and Sons and Florida Crystals.
The legal challenge is "ridiculous" and threatens to derail the state's efforts to acquire land for restoration, according to Florida Crystals Vice President Gaston Cantens said.
"What else is new? ... Any time there is progress, they file another lawsuit," Cantens said. "It stops all the progress that is being made."
The lease extensions are tied to deals for the South Florida Water Management District to buy 638 acres from Duda for $2 million and to trade 8,700 acres of district land for 2,000 acres owned by Florida Crystals.
Getting that Florida Crystals land would enable expanding a stormwater treatment area in Palm Beach County. Acquiring the Duda property would help restore the area around Lake Hipochee in Glades County.
But environmental groups that oppose the lease-portion of the deal say the state shouldn't be locking in more polluting agricultural production for decades to come while taxpayers are spending billions to restore the Everglades.
"It is public land [and] you are basically telling everybody you never intend to use the land for Everglades restoration," said Drew Martin of the Sierra Club in Palm Beach County.
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