Disabled vet and homesteader, Jesse Hardy fights to keep his home of 27 years from being taken by the state for 'restoration'
Florida - David will take on Goliath, Mar. 13, as Southern Golden Gate Estates property owner Jesse Hardy fights the state of Florida for 160 acres of land he has called home for 27 years.
Located in what is called the "Hole in the Donut," the property is part of the state's 55,000-acre buy-out to restore natural water flows to the SGGE, once slated for development.
Hardy says his property is not necessary to the restoration project and will not be adversely affected by it.
"I'm not against any of the environmentalists' work to re-hydrate the Southern Golden Gate Estates," he says. "I'm all for it. The more water, the happier I will be. I'm not trying to stop anything. I just want to keep my home."
The 67-year-old Florida native homesteaded the rustic property in 1976. Using propane and a gas-powered generator, he lives in a tiny wood frame home with his seven-year-old son. Despite talk of offers of up to $5 million, Hardy says he has no plans to sell his property for any price.
"Living here is what has kept me going," he says. "It's my home. I'm too old to go anywhere else."
Hardy is one of three property owners holding out on the state's quest to purchase the final 4,000 acres of the buy-out, which has cost $90 million thus far.
Last month, the governor and Cabinet were asked to initiate condemnation proceedings on Hardy's property. If approved, it would be the first time the state has ever used eminent domain to take homesteaded land. Instead, the Cabinet directed the Department of Environmental Protection land acquisition agents to negotiate with property owners.
Hardy says it won't make any difference. He has no plans to sell his property for any price.
"My attorney asked me if there is any dollar amount I would take for my property. I told him, ‘no,'" he says, "My attorney said, ‘Don't be surprised if the Cabinet grants eminent domain.' He said it will be up to me to get the information to the governor to stop it."
Hardy is hopeful area residents will show their support by writing letters asking the governor not to grant eminent domain and allow him to keep his land.
Estates resident Cindy Kemp, founding member of the Property Rights Action Committee (PRAC), says the group hopes to assist Hardy in his quest. She says PRAC has connections with other property groups across the nation and a letter writing campaign is underway.
A special gathering to meet Hardy and hear his story will be held at 2 p.m., Sunday, Mar. 9, at his property. For directions, call 352-9033.
"He has such an interesting story," Kemp says. "People need to hear it to fully understand his situation."
At an elevation of 11-13 feet, Hardy says his property will never be affected by the restoration project. He says he doesn't understand why the state is insisting on buying him out.
"It was willing buyer, willing seller," he says. "It was always willing buyer, willing seller. It was a CARL project for the benefit of the people of Collier County. If they shut it off to where people can't use it, how is that a benefit to the people of Collier County?"
Hardy says he is frustrated by a lack of reasons as to why he is being forced to sell his land.
"They haven't given me no reason for wanting me out," he says. "They made their deal with everyone else, but here it's like they want it all."
A disabled Navy SEAL, Hardy says the money doesn't matter to him.
"It's my home and it means more to me than the money. If it (condemnation) was for something useful to the public health and well-being, like a school, a fire station, or a hospital, I would move with no problem," he says.
Nearly two years ago, Collier County gave Hardy the go-ahead to build the first of four proposed 20-acre ponds to create a fish farm. Several environmental groups including the Florida Wildlife Federation and the Collier County Audubon Society originally opposed the concept, but later agreed to support the construction of one 20-acre pond. Any future excavation will have to be re-approved by the county.
Hardy has three years to complete the first pond and have it stocked and landscaped. He says the project is currently one-third complete and the fill has been purchased by the county for road building.
He says the fish in the pond are doing well and predators have not been a problem. He hopes to one day open the area up to the public for recreational fishing.
"I'm not going to do just commercial catfish," he says. "We will have three to four different kinds of native species like bass and brim. It should be a real benefit to the people of Collier County."
To contact the governor, email firstname.lastname@example.org, write 400
South Monroe Street, Tallahassee, FL 32399-0001, call 850-488-4441
or fax 850-487-0801.
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