Legal Fight Slows Everglades Restoration

Tuesday, 05 Oct 2010 07:40 PM

By Lisa Arthur

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A legal fight between an environmental group and the EPA over a revamped water quality enforcement plan has slowed down the already slow-moving Everglades restoration. The future of a land deal with U.S. Sugar Corp. is in question. And so is the $197 million tab for South Florida taxpayers, according to miamiherald.com.

At issue is the Environmental Protection Agency’s enforcement of the Clean Water Act when it comes to polluted stormwater discharges to the Everglades. Friends of the Everglades has filed a measure in federal court to have the EPA’s revamped plan rejected. The new EPA plan announced in September to start enforcing already overdue standards for the levels of polluting phosphorus allowed in storm water headed to the Everglades needs tighter deadlines and punishments, Friends of the Everglades said.

Meanwhile, the South Florida Water Management District is getting ready to close Oct. 12 on a $197 million land deal to use U.S. Sugar farmland to store and treat more storm water bound for the Everglades. The lingering legal issues could still scrap the deal. While critics say the EPA's new plan doesn't go far enough, the water management district warns that the actions called for in the plan by Friends of the Everglades come with a potential $1.5 billion price tag that would make other glades efforts unaffordable. And taxpayers would get dinged, the water district contends.

That cost would be ``regrettably, not achievable,'' according to a Sept. 30 letter from District Executive Director Carol Wehle to Gold. The district wants Gold and other courts reviewing the U.S. Sugar deal to allow the land purchase to move forward. ``It is South Florida's taxpayers who alone are expected to carry the heavy financial load to meet the Court's mandates,'' Wehle wrote in a letter to the judge hearing the case.

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