State ordered to pay homeowners for healthy citrus tree removal in 2003

When the state attempted to fight citrus canker more than 10 years ago, it failed. And it forced some people to tear down their trees. Some of them sued and won. We spoke to homeowners in Cape Coral who were forced to cut down their healthy citrus trees.

A state appellate court has ordered Florida to pay back Lee County homeowners, whose healthy citrus trees were removed from their properties back in 2003.

“We bought this house in 98 and it had these beautiful trees,” Deanna Klockow said.

“You’d get so disappointed,” John Klockow said. “But it was like, at this point, you have to stay with it.”

Justice may be coming to homeowners such as the Klockows in Cape, since a court has ordered the state to reimburse them for the healthy trees that were ripped from their property.

“Democracy does work,” John said.

In 2003, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, in effort to stop a disease called canker, ordered tree removals. In Lee County alone, the move impacted 12,000 families around 34,000 trees gone.

“Total anger, disappointment in the justice system,” Deanna said.

Homeowners sued for compensation and won. But the state dug in its heels by refusing to pay and appealing the decision.

“It’s just disappointment that justice has taken so long. so terribly, terribly long,” Deanna said.

The attorney representing the homeowners told us, this time, he’s confident they will get their checks.

At $285 per tree, with interest, the state payout comes to $19 million in taxpayer money.

It will be up to the state legislature to approve the payout and up to Gov. Ron DeSantis to sign it. The last time the measure reached the governor’s desk, U.S. Sen. Rick Scott vetoed it.

It’s been too long for homeowners who started the fight in 2006.

“Many of the people are dead, dead and gone,” Deanna said.

“I remember one time a couple saying, the way things are going, we probably won’t even be around to get the money,” John said. “Just to see that fair compensation.”

Reporter:Anika Henanger
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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