The Rivers Coalition, a Treasure Coast environmental group that has sued the federal government to stop discharges from Lake Okeechobee into the St. Lucie Estuary, unanimously approved a resolution Thursday supporting a deal between the state and U.S. Sugar Corp. designed to move the water south instead.

On Tuesday, the South Florida Water Management District and the sugar company signed a “statement of principles” calling for the state to buy about 187,000 acres in the Everglades Agricultural Area for $1.8 billion. The land could be used to restore the traditional flow of water from Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades.

Establishing the flow way also is designed to significantly reduce the amount of water released into the St. Lucie Estuary.

“The Rivers Coalition is in full support of this acquisition,” said Leon Abood, chairman of the group, “providing the last is used for the southern conveyance of water from Lake Okeechobee.

But Abood said it’s too early for the group to consider dropping its lawsuit.

The Stuart-based Rivers Coalition, a consortium of local environmental groups, outdoors enthusiasts and fishing clubs, filed a federal lawsuit in November 2006 against the Army Corps of Engineers, which operates the control structures at Lake Okeechobee in an effort to end discharges that in most years send hundreds of billions of gallons of muddy, polluted fresh water into the St. Lucie Estuary.

“Over the last couple of days I’ve been asked lots of times if we’re going to drop the lawsuit,” Abood said. “The answer is unequivocally no. We’re going to keep moving forward.”

At the same time, Abood said the coalition plans to work closely with government agencies to make sure the southern flow way becomes a reality and to make sure the end result benefits Treasure Coast waterways.

“We don’t want to take our eyes off local drainage issues,” he said.

From Staff and Wire Reports

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