State forces court date for rural landowner to give up property — Miami (FL) Herald, 1/17/05

By Roberto Santiago

Long-time Collier County land owner Jesse James Hardy has a showdown with a state judge early next month to determine whether the government can force him off his 160 acres of mosquito-infested property.

Last year, the state filed court papers for eminent domain to force Hardy to take a lump-sum buy out. Eminent domain allows states to take a person's property for the public good, giving them fair market value.

For the last three years the government has been trying to get Hardy to sell his land to make room for its $8 billion Everglades restoration project, which will flood land from Lake Okeechobee south to the ocean, artificially turning it into wetlands and, theoretically, restoring a pollution-free water flow.

Having failed, the state filed for eminent domain.

Hardy, 69, has lived in his mosquito-, bear- and snake-ridden property since 1976 and has refused to leave.

"It's my home and it's where I run my business and where I raise my family," said Hardy. "Why should I leave just so the government can conduct its billion-dollar science project?"

The state hearing, scheduled for Feb. 8 in state court in Naples, Collier County, is a critical "right to take" case, according to Hardy's attorney, Charles Forman.

"It's the turning point. The state has said it has a right to take the property. We have tried to hold off the case as much as possible, but it looks like it will go on February 8," Forman said.

Hardy's other attorney, Karen Budd-Falen said, "If the judge rules to allow eminent domain proceedings to continue, the case will eventually turn to a jury, which will determine how much the land is valued.

"We also have a federal suit pending, questioning the Everglades project and why Mr. Hardy's property needs to be taken in the first place."

Hardy, who paid $60,000 for his property 29 years ago, is concerned that unless the judge rules in his favor, he may have to find another place to live.

"I'm 69, and having a comfortable place to live where I am happy means more to me than money. There ain't no price tag on giving up happiness."

Miami Herald: www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald