Florida buys Everglades land to prevent oil drilling
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday announced a massive land buyout that will kill a plan to drill for oil in the Everglades.
The state will buy 20,000 acres in western Broward County owned by Kanter Real Estate LLC, which had won approval for an exploratory oil well, a project that had generated international outrage. The price is $16.56 million to $18 million, depending on when the deal closes.
"We will permanently save this land from oil production and it will be largest wetlands acquisition in a decade," DeSantis said at a news conference at Everglades Holiday Park, speaking over the noise of airboats heading into the marsh.
The company, which represents the family of banker and developer Joseph Kanter, proposed to drill an exploratory well in the Everglades about five miles west of U.S. 27 and 10 miles south of Alligator Alley. Opposed by environmental groups and local governments, the company's plan generated court battles that so far had failed to stop it.
Environmental groups lauded the buyout, saying it would prevent the blot of industrial activity in one of the world's most famous wetlands.
"This is an important purchase to protect the Everglades and the drinking water of millions," said Diana Umpierre, Everglades organizer for the Sierra Club. Around this time last year, we stood at that same location with local leaders with the unified message of "Not here, not now, not ever, no oil rigs in our Everglades' and after 72 organizations sent a letter to the governor demanding state action to stop oil drilling at this site. So, this is welcomed news and we look forward to reviewing the terms of the purchase agreement announced today."
Matthew Schwartz, executive director of the South Florida Wildlands Association, one of the leaders of the fight against the project, called the buyout a "huge relief."
"It's great news for us that we can take the Kanter well off our crowded plate," he said. "And even better news for the people of South Florida who were extremely distressed about the impacts this well and oil pad could have had on the Biscayne Aquifer, a sole source of drinking water for our entire region."
Joseph Kanter, who had been involved in the development of Lauderhill and other cities, bought the land around 1965 with the aim of creating a new town, long before there were any plans to restore the Everglades. That town was never built, and the land sat undisturbed for decades, with the state allowed to use it for the routing of water through the Everglades.
John Kanter, the company's president and Joseph Kanter's son, said the buyout agreement followed months of discussions and that the family was glad to make a deal that benefited everybody.
"This is a beautiful property, with incredible natural resources, that we have owned for over 50 years," he said in an email. "We are happy that the property will be protected and remain in pristine condition for future generations."
Since his first week in office, DeSantis has undertaken several pro-environment initiatives that surprised people who hadn't expected much from a Trump ally who had run his campaign largely from the studios of Fox News.
He installed a pro-environment board at the powerful South Florida Water Management District, established a task force to address toxic algae, increased funding for Everglades restoration and devoted more resources to addressing climate change. In contrast to his predecessor, Rick Scott, he pointedly placed an emphasis on science, appointing a respected University of Florida researcher as the state's first chief science officer.
But environmentalists have also been critical of him. He received a D grade this week from the Sierra Club, which criticized his support for new toll roads through the habitat of panthers and bears and his lack of initiatives to reduce the state's reliance on fossil fuels.
The Kanter project had a 23% chance of finding oil, according to courtroom testimony from a company expert. If oil were found, the company's expert said it could be possible to extract 180,000 to 10 million barrels. Environmental groups had mobilized to fight it and generate public opposition, which bore fruit in the state's decision to buy out the owner.
"Here's a property we were fighting to defend," said Cara Capp, Everglades restoration program manager of the National Parks Conservation Association. "To see it going in the opposite direction is huge."
©2020 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)
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