Everglades Cleanup Plan is Reached
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) _ The state of Florida, water managers and sugar industry executives have agreed on a $120 million plan backed by environmentalists to clean up the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee.
Whether the plan, agreed to on Tuesday, will be enough to get the U.S. government to drop a pollution lawsuit against the state and the South Florida Water Management District remained an open question.
The water district’s governing board was to hold a final vote on the plan today.
It involves buying up 70,000 acres of privately owned farmland and converting it into marshes and reservoirs that would naturally filter polluted farm wastewater before it reached the Everglades. The state would throw in an additional 3,800 acres of state-owned farmland to be converted as well.
The state, the water district and sugar growers would each put up $40 million.
The industry’s share would be raised over 10 years by a tax of $10 an acre on growers in the Everglades. The tax needs the approval of the Everglades Agricultural Area, which is dominated by big growers.
Water managers have been developing the cleanup plan for the past year under the gun of a federal lawsuit accusing district and state officials of letting agricultural drainage - primarily from sugar cane fields - damage the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge and Everglades National Park. The lawsuit is scheduled for trial next year.
Justice Department spokeswoman Amy Casner in Washington said Wednesday that officials hadn’t seen the plan and had no immediate comment on whether it meets federal requirements to drop the lawsuit.
The plan would quadruple the Everglades cleanup area that was previously under consideration. The idea of the expanded cleansing marsh won widespread support after Charles Lee, Florida Audubon Society vice president, broached it in August.
Water flowing south from farm fields would be cleaned by running it through the marshes, where plants would absorb excess phosphorus blamed for upsetting the Everglades ecosystem.