Tallahassee, Florida - For now, Jesse Hardy can keep his land.
Tallahassee, FLA - 3/13/03 - Gov. Jeb Bush and the Florida Cabinet
on Thursday gave Hardy and fellow
Southern Golden Gate Estates resident George Miller more time to negotiate
with state officials, who want to acquire their lands. Hardy and Miller
refused to give up their homes to make way for an environmental restoration
project that has both state and federal blessing.
Instead of forcing the pair off their land through legal action,
members told Department of Environmental Protection Secretary David
go back to the homeowners with a better offer.
Such a deal could include buying the property, paying all moving
fees and allowing them to stay until it's time to flood the region,
wouldn't take place until at least 2006 but may likely be later.
"When it's somebody's property sitting out there and we need
to put a road
through it, I have no problem with that," state financial officer
Gallagher said. "Somebody's homestead is a different deal."
The Cabinet made the decision after Bush blasted Collier County officials
driving up the cost of state land-buying because of local zoning rules
appear to fly in the face of long-standing state and federal efforts
purchase land for Everglades restoration.
"We need to start second-guessing Collier County," Bush
Hardy, a 67-year-old disabled veteran, lives on 160 acres with his
7-year-old son, Tommy. His parcel is part of the less than 4,000 acres
be purchased within the 55,000-acre buyout in rural Collier County,
Interstate 75. State and federal officials have already spent $92
property in the region.
Despite being under target for purchases for a year, Hardy in 2001
permits from Collier County to begin an earth-mining business. He
to start a catfish farming operation.
The Cabinet has long said it wouldn't force landowners to sell their
property. Most property owners have agreed to sell. Of the 19,000
originally under private ownership, fewer than 350 parcels remain
Thursday, Struhs said the two purchases would mark the first time
environmental officials have used eminent domain on homesteaded property
Florida's environmental land-buying efforts, though some property
"What we now face are two homesteaded parcels remaining,"
Struhs said. "It's
not like the Department of Transportation where we do two (condemnations)
day. We're doing two in four years."
Bush and fellow Cabinet members weren't swayed. Given the fact that
90 percent of the targeted land has been purchased and actual construction
years away, Cabinet members said they would be willing to work with
Miller to sweeten the deals.
"These people moved there for a reason to start with and that
was to get out
of town, out in the woods and it's a little tough on them," state
Secretary Charlie Bronson said. "I know we're going to have to
do this to
move this project, and I believe that can be accomplished. It may
cost us a
While taking pity on Hardy and Miller, Cabinet members had less sympathy
county officials, who they say are contributing to higher land costs
Florida environmental officials are trying to wrap up the last purchases
Southern Golden Gate Estates. Thursday, DEP officials requested the
to make offers on some of the remaining parcels.
Bush and other members chose not to adopt the proposal after learning
officials are facing increasing competition from private bidders in
Under the program, state land buyers are restricted in how much they
On smaller purchases, for example, they can only pay $5,000 or up
percent of the appraised value.
On at least one recent purchase attempt, private buyers outbid state
officials, scooped up the property and immediately subdivided it with
County government's blessing -- meaning the property then was worth
it would cost the state more to buy it.
Now, what once was a single 5-acre parcel contains four parcels,
the value of
which has risen. Instead of paying the property owner for the loss
house, state officials must pay for four such losses, even though
region has been slated to be flooded for at least the past two years.
"This is incredible," Bush said. "We're taking action
to purchase land under
a power that makes me queasy -- when the local government wants people