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Sunday, August 03, 2008

Huge U.S. Sugar Deal: Did it Violate Florida Sunshine?

A former U.S. attorney sued South Florida water managers Friday, alleging their initial talks about the proposed $1.75 billion U.S. Sugar buyout violated the state's Government -in-the-Sunshine Law.

Among other steps, Dexter Lehtinen wants a Palm Beach County circuit judge to toss out the South Florida Water Management District's "statement of principles" outlining the broad terms of the deal, which could convert 187,000 acres of farmland into marshes and reservoirs to help restore the Everglades.

The suit complains that Gov. Charlie Crist's representatives and district leaders, including members of the district's board, "participated in secret negotiations" on the proposed deal before Crist announced it June 24.

"The transparency issue is critical," Lehtinen said in an interview. "They have developed this without revealing the details and without answering the serious questions. The Sunshine Law is designed to allow the public to get answers to those questions."

Water managers defended the deal, calling it one of the most important moves to protect the Everglades since the creation of Everglades National Park in 1947.

In a statement Friday, the district said it "remains committed to open government and conducting itself according to the letter and spirit of the law throughout these complex and delicate negotiations."

More here.

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