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U.S. Sugar Board approves two-step land acquisition

By Staff | May 11, 2009

On Friday, the Board of Directors of the U.S. Sugar Corporation approved the amended contract terms for the South Florida Water Management District’s acquisition of the company’s land in two affordable phases that enable the company to continue its operations.

“Our board approved the revised acquisition approach implementing Governor Crist’s bold vision for our property,” said Robert Coker, senior vice president, public affairs. “While the vision and goal remain unchanged, the economy dictated this more affordable approach.”

Under the amended terms, the South Florida Water Management District initially would acquire nearly 73,000 acres of U.S. Sugar Corp.’s land for approximately $536 million with a 10-year option to acquire the remaining 107,000 acres. U.S. Sugar would continue to farm the property through a seven-year lease that may be extended under certain circumstances.

“We believe this historic acquisition will still provide great benefits for the environment and a fair value for our company,” Coker said. “Our board approval brings us one step closer to getting this done. The next step is the review and approval of the amended contract by the governing board of the South Florida Management District next week.”

The water management district is in the bond validation process in Florida Circuit Court. The acquisition is scheduled to close within 90 days of bond validation.

“This two-step approach provides a greater degree of certainty for our businesses, for our employees and also for our communities by keeping our farming and processing operations viable for the foreseeable future,” he added.

In addition, Coker noted that under the amended agreement, U.S. Sugar will lease back the cane land for $150 per gross acre for the initial seven-year period. The water management district can take nearly 33,000 acres of citrus land with one year’s notice.

The district also may take up to 10,000 acres of cane land at any time in the first 10 years with a two-year notice for approved and funded projects. Up to 3,000 acres of transition lands within or adjacent to local municipalities will be made available for development or community projects.

“Now it is up to the governing board to approve the contract and move forward to implement Governor Crist’s vision,” Coker said. “We are optimistic that they will.”