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Experts: Court ruling could complicate future land deals for Everglades

The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday upheld -- with one pointed and potentially critical exception -- state water managers' plans to bankroll a $536 million purchase of a big chunk of the U.S. Sugar Corp. empire with bonds.

The justices did reverse part of a Palm Beach County circuit court decision issued last year, cutting out $50 million the agriculture giant had demanded for granting the South Florida Water Managment District a three-year ``option'' to buy an even larger swath in the future. The ruling also prohibited water managers from using the bond money to buy other parcels.

The long-awaited decision came too late to have any direct or immediate effect on a sugar deal Gov. Charlie Crist and environmentalists championed as a key to Everglades restoration. The district's governing board, slammed by plummeting property tax revenues, dropped the bonding plan as too expensive and instead opted for a radically downsized cash buy: $197 million for 26,800 acres of citrus groves and cane fields between the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee.

``I view this as a victory after the fact,'' said Eric Buermann, a Miami attorney who chairs the district's governing board. But he acknowledged that the court's take on the land option could complicate any effort to acquire more land in the future. Read more:

-- Curtis Morgan

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