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Crist unwinds Everglades deal, says 'writing was on the wall'

Everglades_pinelandsthumb Gov. Charlie Crist told Tallahassee bureau reporters today that negotiations will begin tomorrow to bring the historic agreement he announced last week with U.S. Sugar "in for a landing,'' noting that the "it's not done yet, but the principles are in place and I'm optimistic about it.''

When asked to explain how the deal first came about, Crist said it began when he made his appointments to the South Florida Water Management District.  "I think that sort of the writing was on the wall that this administration was serious about the fact that we wanted to protect those rivers - the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers that flow from either side of Lake Okeechobee - and enforce that,'' Crist said.

When U.S. Sugar lobbyists Brian Ballanrd and Mac Stipanovich asked to meet with him to discuss the issue, he figured "they wanted to have a chance to sort of convince me maybe that wasn't the right thing to do  -- to stop the backpumping -- and that prior administrations had allowed for it.''

Crist stopped short of taking credit for coming up with the idea. He describes it this way: "One thing led to another and I can't remember exactly the circumstances of it. Ultimately, 'Why don't you just sell? Let's consider that as a notion.'''

The governor was asked whether the depletion of the nutrient value of the soil in the Everglades Agricultural Area played a role, and the fact that real estate prospects of converting farm land to development were not longer as lucrative in the down market as they once were. He acknowledged that those and "many factors" probably influenced U.S. Sugar's interest in accepting the offer.

"It's hard to measure how much each individual part played a role,'' Crist said. "I'm sure all those factors contributed to it though. Some as a fallback position, in agriculture in Florida, had gone to real estate development, and a lot of tracts of land (were sold) for large developments. That's obviously cooled at present. So I don't think that's as viable an option for some as it had been in the past.''