Outraged at continued efforts by the state of Florida to seize the home of a disabled veteran for conservation purposes, a local property rights group has launched a nation-wide letter-writing campaign on his behalf.
“We need letter writing – phone, fax or e-mail – to Gov. Jeb Bush in support of Jesse Hardy,” says Cindy Kemp, a Collier County, Fla., resident and founding member of the Property Rights Action Committee in an e-mail message alert. “The situation [he] is in breaks my heart.”
As reported by WorldNetDaily, Hardy, 67, a former U.S. Navy SEAL, lives with his adopted 7-year-old son, Tommy, in a modest wood-framed house at the end of a dirt road, on a 168-acre parcel he bought in 1976. Collier County refused to allow electricity to be provided to the area, so like other area residents he relies on propane and a gas-powered generator.
Hardy does not want to move and has turned down an offer of $1.7 million for his land. He reportedly has had offers of as high as $5 million.
Jesse Hardy and son Tommy (Photo: Tony Wojciechowski).
“It’s my home and it means more to me than money,” he told the Golden Gate Gazette, a weekly newspaper. “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 have no problem.”
Hardy’s problem is that his homestead lies two miles south of Interstate 75, within a 55,000-acre government buyout area called Southern Golden Gate Estates that the state of Florida has targeted for acquisition as part of the gigantic Everglades restoration project. The project is intended to restore natural water flows and involves deconstructing roads and plugging canals built years ago when development of the area was the approved thing to do. Reversing that policy requires the relocation of thousands of people throughout southern Florida.
By late November, the buyout had cost the state and federal governments $89 million, and 3,981 acres are still in private hands.
Hardy and his attorney, Bill Moore of Sarasota, Fla., maintain the property is not needed for the restoration project and would not be affected by it.
At an elevation of 11-13 feet above sea level, it will never be affected by the restoration project, and Hardy does not understand why the state of Florida is so anxious to buy him out.
“I’m not against any of the environmentalists’ work to rehydrate the Southern Golden Gate Estates,” he explained to the Golden Gate Gazette. “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.”
Hardy is one of three property owners holding out on the state’s effort to buy the last few thousand acres in this particular buyout area.
The Florida Forever program, approved by the voters in 1999, allows the state to use eminent domain if it has made two good-faith offers to buy a piece of property and has been turned down. In addition, the land must be of such significant environmental importance that failure to buy it would stymie the management of other state-owned lands.
Jesse Hardy’s home in southern Florida (Photo: Tony Wojciechowski).
In late January, the state asked the governor and the six-member Cabinet to
OK the initiation of 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.
WorldNetDaily reported, to everyone’s surprise, Bush and the three
members of the Cabinet present voted unanimously to turn down the request by
the state to allow it to use its powers of condemnation and
directed the Department of Environmental Protection to continue talks with
the owners on purchasing the 3,982 acres that are in dispute. Bush said
that the state “needs to go the extra mile” before taking a homeowner’s
“In the eminent domain world, [forget] everything I’ve said about the state purchasing land,” the governor said. “This is a different animal. We need to bend over backward to find ways to accommodate people who have made life decisions. It’s their property.”
But it was only a reprieve. The Cabinet and the governor will meet March 13 to reconsider the question.
“My attorney asked me if there [is] any dollar amount I would take for my property. I told him, ‘no,'” Hardy recalled for the Gazette. “My attorney said, ‘Don’t be surprised if the Cabinet grants eminent domain.’ He said it is up to me to get the information to the governor to stop it.”
Hardy said he is hopeful that area residents will show their support by writing letters, and the Property Rights Action Committee has offered its support in spreading the word.
PRAC has called a special meeting for Sunday at Hardy’s home where local residents and supporters can hear his story.
“He is a kind soul and a down-to-earth person,” says Kemp. “His memories of being a Navy SEAL and his life’s experiences are captivating. Jesse realizes that there are more valuable things in life than money. Imagine someone these days not being lured and selling out for $5 million dollars. Without property, you become enslaved, which is why our [nation’s] Founders made such a big deal about property rights. My understanding is that even Governor Jeb Bush is not in favor of eminent domain on homesteaders.”
“He has such an interesting story,” Kemp told the Gazette. “People need to hear it to fully understand his situation.”
Almost two years ago, Collier County gave Hardy the go-ahead to begin an earth-mining business, which would incorporate a fish farm. As rock is removed, the mined area would be replaced with fishponds. Today, the county is one of his customers, buying rock to build new roads. One of the four planned ponds is nearly complete, and Hardy reports the fish are doing well. He hopes to open the area eventually to the public for recreational fishing.
“I’m not going to do just commercial catfish,” he told the Gazette. “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.”
Hardy is particularly irked at the way the buyout program was presented.
“They haven’t given me no reason for wanting me out,” he said. “They made their deal with everyone else, but here it’s like they want it all.”
“It was willing buyer, willing seller,” he exclaimed. “It was always willing buyer, willing seller. It was a [conservation] project for the benefit of the people of Collier County. If they shut it off to where people can’t use it, now is that a benefit to the people of Collier County?”