My Home, My Heritage has No Selling Price

March 13, 2005

Special to the Naples News
Commentary by Jesse Hardy

Many of you have heard my name. Numerous articles have been written about me, especially during the past few years, as different environmental agencies have tried to make their voices heard in protest of my property rights. From Governor Jeb Bush and down through the "chain of command", everyone has his or her opinion of what should happen to my property.

With all the articles written about me, no one has ever found it newsworthy enough to ask why I am fighting so hard to keep this property.

My name is Jesse Hardy and this is my story.

From my earliest days of recollection, I always dreamed of owning my own piece of property some day. No stranger to work, I helped my pregnant mother as best I could doing little odd jobs, after my father died in a car accident when I was 3.

At 69 years, when most people are thinking of retiring, I'm still working as best I can, in order to pay for the many attorneys who are assisting my fight.

I grew up in Port St. Joe, Florida, and learned that my grandmother lost her 160 acres to the DuPont family, for mere pennies, once they began buying up nearly the entire area to turn it into a paper mill town.

Times were tough, but my mother finally managed to scrape up enough money to buy an acre and a half in nearby White City, on the Intracoastal Waterway, where my brother lives today.

After high school, I entered the U.S. Navy where I spent the next 14 years, eventually becoming a member of their elite Navy Seals operation. After being injured during a helicopter operation, I was honorably discharged with 100 percent disability, and settled in Miami where I worked at several jobs. After earning my Realtor's license I worked as a property appraiser in Miami, then I became a Realtor for the now defunct Gulf America Corp., near Remuda Ranch (Port of the Islands).

In 1976 my dream came true when I purchased my 160-acre tract of land from the Collier family for $60,000. That was a lot of money for me, but I scraped by and came up with the 25 percent down payment, and I paid the balance over the next four years at a great struggle.

Since then, I have maintained it without any infrastructure or electricity, running off a generator even today.

You see, to me this is my home.

This is the great American dream.

Other than my family, I have nothing else.

This is all I want.

Certain restrictions were placed on my property, leaving me with few options of working it. After careful research, I decided to build an aquaculture center (fish farm) that would not only bring in money for my family, but could also be enjoyed by Collier County residents too.

However, before I could build a fish farm, I first needed to dig the fill for the ponds. The fill from these ponds needed to be hauled and this had been my livelihood until recently, when the county's advisory planning commission denied me my permit.

Without a permit, I am in violation of county code enforcement, and that means I can't work.

Without work, I can't put food on the table.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has declared it needs my property, located 13 feet above sea level, as part of the Everglades Restoration Plan.

I have said all along that I do not believe they need my property for this project.

After many months of negotiation, with an offer of $4.5 million on the table in exchange for my property, they are turning to eminent domain.

Even Governor Bush wanted this to be settled amicably; however, there is no other parcel of land similar to mine to be found in the Florida.

So now we are going to court.

In a "David versus Goliath" scenario, I am fighting the battle of my life.

This has never been about money.

This land is irreplaceable.

This land is my home and my heritage.

Many people have told me to take the money and run, but I'd never be able to buy a piece of property like this anywhere.

With land now running about $50,000 per acre, this $4.5 million won't come near the 160 acres I own.

There's just no amount of money in the world to justify selling out my heritage to my son, Tommy.


Please see these articles:

for some wonderful photos of Jesse and Tommy and their home.

Jesse Hardy is a resident of southern Golden Gate Estates.

Copyright 2005, Naples Daily News.



In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, any copyrighted work in this message is distributed under fair use without profit or payment for non-profit research and educational purposes only. [Ref.]

Back to Current Edition Citizen Review Archive LINKS Search This Site