Arizona Prickly Over Everglades Land Swap
A FEDERAL plan to give a Florida land developer a prized tract in downtown Phoenix in exchange for 108,000 acres of Everglades swampland has bogged down in Arizona, where residents are crying foul. "A lot of people here feel like Florida is getting a great deal and Phoenix is getting the short end of the stick," said Karen Schroddir, assistant to Phoenix Mayor Paul Johnson.
Under the plan approved by Congress in 1988, the Barron Collier Company of Naples, Fla., would give the federal government 108,000 acres of southwest Florida swampland, valued at about $400 an acre. The government would annex the tract to the Big Cypress National Preserve just west of Everglades National Park, the habitat for the near-extinct Florida panther and other endangered species.
In exchange, Collier would get a prized 68-acre tract in downtown Phoenix owned by the federal government and valued at well over $1 million an acre.
To even the exchange, Collier would kick in $35 million to a trust fund for Native American education. The money would go to Southwest tribes that were sending their children to a federally operated school on the Phoenix tract until it closed last year because the proposed swap.
Florida officials consider the plan crucial to protecting the Everglades from development and gas and oil exploration and to guarding drinking-water aquifers from contamination.
The swap, which took Florida state and federal officials nearly three years to get approved by the White House and Congress, must be approved by the Phoenix City Council. It began unraveling in late March when the council unanimously rejected a proposal by a citizens' committee it had appointed to make recommendations for developing the downtown tract. City officials balked at the zoning recommendations, saying they would have let Collier build too many high-rises and leave too little public park land o n
The City Council and Mayor Johnson, who was not in office when the swap was agreed to, are scheduled to vote June 25 on a revised development plan for the tract.
Both the Indian tribes and Collier have threatened to pull out of the deal if they don't like the revised plan.