Letting the Water Run into 'Big Sugar's' Bowl: A Federal Plan to Restore Part of the Everglades

By Katel, Peter | Newsweek, March 4, 1996 | Go to article overview

Letting the Water Run into 'Big Sugar's' Bowl: A Federal Plan to Restore Part of the Everglades


Katel, Peter, Newsweek


THE EVERGLADES HAVE NEVER BEEN much of a symbol for the environmental movement. For 50 years, as ricans have gone to bat for everything from the Grand Canyon to the spotted owl, Florida's River of Grass has been systematically destroyed--and few non-Floridians knew or cared. Maybe it's hard for outsiders to get choked up about a place that looks like a swamp and breeds monster mosquitoes and alligators, animals that are not exactly a tourist's best friend. Nor did it help that the Everglades are scenically challenged. "They lack a certain grandeur," admits Carol Browner, a Miami native who heads the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. "You can't stand in one place and say, `Wow'."

To be fair to the Glades, they haven't looked their best for nearly 50 years, when the Feds started re-engineering them. Vice President Al Gore promised last week to restore at least some of the area's ecological integrity. Standing alongside Browner in the tall grass, Gore announce plan to rescue the shattered natural water system, with the federal government picking up half the cost. The project aims to reverse a half century of government policy that drained water off the Everglades to fuel coastal development and the sugarcane industry. The new effort, Gore said, will save the water supply--and the tourist economy--of south Florida. "It is an investment in Florida's future," he said. "And an investment in America's future."

The plan would require the sugar-cane industry to sell 100,000 acres--one fifth of its land--and pay a penny-a-pound tax, roughly $245 million. Most of the land abuts the Everglades National Park. Scientists think that letting the acres go wild will cause an adequate water flow to return to the area, replenishing both the marshes and the underground aquifer that supports Dade and Broward counties.

The announcement annoyed "Big Sugar," the agribusiness companies that produce 1.7 million tons of Everglades sugar each year. Long sheltered from foreign competition by U.S. price supports, the industry may be losing some of its clout, but none of its combativeness. The sugar companies will fight in Washington, much as they have in Tallassee. …

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