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Friday, December 8, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Sugar Co & Farm Bureau Fight Clean Water Act

WASHINGTON (CN) - The United States Sugar Corp. and its allies in the American Farm Bureau Federation say that agricultural land converted from wetlands before 1985 is not subject to the Clean Water Act. U.S. Sugar claims the Army Corps of Engineers has no jurisdiction over 53 million acres "that no longer perform the wetlands function as they did in their natural condition."

The giant sugar company owns 187,000 acres in Florida, 104,000 of it in the Everglades Agricultural Area, it says in its federal complaint.

U.S. Sugar claims that the Army Corps of Engineers issued a Final Rule in 1993 that exempted agricultural lands converted from wetlands before 1985 from Clean Water Act enforcement.

U.S. Sugar says the 1993 rule established its converted cropland as not being U.S. waters, allowing it to be used for nonagricultural purposes without Corps approval.

Most of U.S. Sugar's land in the Everglades is converted wetlands.

According to its complaint, the Everglades Agricultural Area consists of 700,000 acres south of Lake Okeechobee in Palm Beach County. U.S. Sugar says some land there "used by U.S. Sugar" is leased to Stewart Mining Industries, an aggregate miner.

It is unclear from the complaint whether U.S. Sugar is complaining only of the land it owns, or also of land that it "use(s)."

To comply with the Corps' new rule, U.S. Sugar says, Stewart Mining has "delayed commencement" of mining U.S. Sugar property. U.S. Sugar says that is costing it rent and royalties.

U.S. Sugar claims its converted land is routinely used for developments, sewer lines, power lines and so on, practices it says are "typical uses" for farm land. It claims the new rule will force some farmers to get permits and will devalue their land as loan collateral and development potential.

"The Headquarters New Rule constricts a farmer's ability to use his land for uses other than what the Corps deems to be 'agricultural use'," the plaintiffs say.

They claim the Corps violated the Administrative Procedures Act by throwing out its 1993 Final Rule and subjecting their land to the Clean Water Act. They want an injunction.

The Farm Bureau and U.S. Sugar are represented by Virginia Albrecht with Hunton Williams.

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