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For Crist, Everglades deal could be liability, not legacy

When Gov. Charlie Crist leaves the governor's office in nine months, what will he have to show for his one term in office? Two recent stories suggest his legacy won't be a cleaner Everglades National Park.

The New York Times takes a highly critical look at the deal today that suggests taxpayers and the Everglades are getting the short end of the stick, while U.S. Sugar and Sen. George LeMiuex's former law firm prosper:

Negotiations favored United States Sugar from the start, when the state accepted two outside firms appraisals of the company's land that used figures from the height of the real estate market, according to documents.When a fairness opinion commissioned by the state found that those appraisals had overvalued the land by $400 million, Florida officials orchestrated a public relations campaign to discredit the findings, internal e-mail showed. Appraisers from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which was required to sign off on the deal, were also cut out of the process after raising concerns, e-mail messages showed.When it came time to decide which land to buy, state officials acknowledged that United States Sugar was, as one official put it during an interview, "pretty much in the drivers seat."

Former Gov. Jeb Bush, who initiated most of that work, said in an interview that he was deeply disappointed with the decision by Mr. Crist, his successor and a fellow Republican, calling the move to halt the projects a setback for restoration. To replace projects that were under way for a possibility of a project decades from now is not a good trade, Mr. Bush said. On a net basis, this appears to me there has been a replacement of science-based environmental policy for photo-op environmental policy. In its current form, the deals only clear, immediate beneficiaries would be United States Sugar, a privately held company based in Clewiston, Fla., and its law firm, Gunster, which is expected to collect tens of millions of dollars in fees for its work on the sale, according to current and former United States Sugar executives.The sale, scheduled to close March 31, amounts to a lifeline for the company, which entered negotiations at a time of profound weakness; it was facing a costly shareholder lawsuit, sinking profit margins and increased foreign competition. The deal would enable it to wipe nearly all the debt from its books. 

The Miami Herald also took a close look at the Everglades deal, that story is here.