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Legislature Compensates Lee, Broward Residents For Lost Citrus Trees

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Jessica Meszaros
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

  The Florida Legislature finally included compensation in the state budget for Lee County and Broward County residents after agriculture officials removed their healthy citrus trees in the early 2000s. It was a failed attempt by the Florida Department of Agriculture to eradicate the bacterial disease citrus canker. These residents hope the governor will sign the state budget to end their years-long battle. 

Lois Stroh is a Cape Coral retiree. The state took down the one citrus tree on her lawn in 2003. It was a healthy tree, but it was within 1,900 feet of a tree infected with citrus canker. The Florida Department of Agriculture removed more than 130,000 healthy citrus trees in Broward County, and another 34,000 thousand in Lee County.

The agency was hoping to eliminate the bacterial disease.Strohwas part of a class action lawsuit to get compensation from the state for the removal. She said even though she only had one tree, she joined on principle.

"Everybody felt the same way, you know, we loved our citrus trees and we were sorry to see them cut down," she said. "But we understand that the state was attempting to control the disease, and we did not fight that. What we fought was the compensation due."

Stroh said at the time, they had no idea the process would drag on for so long. 

"Multiple hearings, and certifications, and trial statuses, and mediation, and liability trial, and a compensation trial, and a non-binding arbitration-- it's just gone on for 11 years," she said. 

Juries in both Lee and Broward awarded their homeowners with compensation some years ago, but the Florida Legislature failed to approve the funding for residents until now—more than $37 million for both counties. Residents in Orange and Palm Beach Counties, though, are still waiting for the legislature to approve their compensation packages. 

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Jessica Meszaros is a reporter and host of All Things Consideredfor WGCU News.