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As Deadline Nears, Officials Say Purchase Of Sugar Land Is Not A Priority

Forest and Kim Starr
Flickr / Creative Commons

The October 12th deadline for state officials to buy up sugar land south of Lake Okeechobee is quickly approaching.

Environmentalists have said the state should be diverting water from the lake through the Everglades Agricultural Area. However, water managers say buying the land is not a priority right now.

Officials from the South Florida Water Management District said a host of projects meant to ease the effect of water discharges east and west of Lake Okeechobee are enough.

Right now, state officials are working on an Everglades Water Quality Plan, building reservoirs to hold lake water and bridging along and Tamiami Trail to facilitate water flow south. Other projects are also in the works.

In a statement, water managers said by concentrating efforts on land the state already owns, they are quote “focusing taxpayer dollars on their most effective use.” But some environmentalists don’t agree.

Jennifer Hecker with the Conservancy of Southwest Florida said these projects won’t sufficiently protect Florida’s ecosystems in the long term.

“We don’t have the capacity to move the amount of water that is necessary to stop the harmfully high releases to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie River without acquiring more lands in the Everglades agricultural area,” Hecker said.

Hecker said the pending projects are helpful, but possibly only handle about 10 percent of the water from Lake O’.

Another environmentalist, Jonathon Ullman with the Sierra Club, said if the deadline to purchase land passes, future purchases become more costly and less likely.

“There are details in this contract that make it more difficult than before the 12th,” he said.

However, not all environmental groups agree with focusing efforts on buying sugar land. Audubon Florida has said that strategy may take more time and money than the plans already in place.