Florida to purchase 20,000 acres of Everglades wetlands to protect from oil drilling

Florida everglades

Florida has reached a deal with a real estate company to acquire 20,000 acres of the Everglades that is slated for oil production in order to protect the wetlands, Florida’s governor announced Wednesday.

Ron DeSantis, a Republican, called it the largest wetland acquisition in a decade and said the purchase will permanently save these lands from oil drilling.

The pending land purchase was made in agreement with Kanter Real Estate, which has owned property in the heart of the Everglades’ Water Conservation Area 3 in Broward County for over 50 years.

According to the Miami Herald, a Florida appeals court in February reversed a decision by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection that denied a permit to the Kanter family to drill on their lands.

Kanter Real Estate President John Kanter told the Herald at the time that “our focus has always been to conduct this project in a manner that would be highly protective of the environment.”

“We are happy that the property will be protected and remain in pristine condition for many years to come,” Kanter said in a statement emailed to CNN. “All of the stakeholders on both sides negotiated in good faith to find common interests and common ground.”

Kanter applauded DeSantis, saying the governor “stepped in and really took a leadership role and created a situation where there’s a win-win for all.”

At a news conference in Fort Lauderdale, on the edge of the Everglades, DeSantis said Wednesday that the Kanter family legally had the rights to drill on the land, which is why his administration had to strike a deal. The governor said the state hopes the deal will be quickly finalized.

The state has an option agreement to buy the land for $16.5 million, which could rise to $18 million, according to the head of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Noah Valenstein.

“This was something that we challenged in court and the court simply didn’t agree with our administration and allowed the oil permit to move forward,” Valenstein said Wednesday at the news conference.

The public ownership will also protect more than 60 endangered and threatened species.

The governor’s action was applauded by environmental groups, who had opposed Kanter’s plans to drill. The Sierra Club called it “an important purchase to protect the Everglades and the drinking water of millions of people.”

DeSantis has made expediting restoration of the Everglades one of his administration’s environmental priorities. One of his first executive orders in 2019 called for $2.5 billion over the next four years for Everglades restoration and protection of Florida’s water resources.

Although Republican office holders are generally more favorable to oil and gas interests than Democrats, GOP governors of coastal states have opposed some efforts to open up offshore drilling out of concerns over environmental impacts. In 2018, the Trump administration said that it would exempt Florida from offshore drilling, conceding to vocal opposition from then Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

Companies have been more successful in obtaining permits for onshore drilling in Florida, the Tampa Bay Times reported late last year.

CNN’s Amanda Watts contributed to this report.