Lee County homeowners get $16.8M settlement 20 years after citrus trees destroyed

Writer: Jack Lowenstein
Published: Updated:

Nearly 20 years after the state destroyed thousands of citrus trees in a failed attempt to eliminate citrus canker, homeowners in Southwest Florida are receiving money to make up for it.

More than 12,000 homeowners filed a lawsuit against the state and won. We spoke to two plaintiffs Thursday who say it is justice they deserve.

John and Dee Klockow bought their Cape Coral home 20 years ago for one reason and one reason only.

“This beautiful backyard with all these fruit trees, orange trees, grapefruit trees, it was pretty nice,” John said.

Five years later, Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services crews ripped out their trees. The state said it was in effort to stop the spread of citrus canker.

“They had armed guards and police with guns,” Dee said. “Our yard look like it was a war zone.”

The effort to stop the citrus infection, which scars fruit and makes it drop early, failed.

The end result: 12,000 Lee County homeowners, including the Klockows, lost their trees and got next to nothing in return, so they took the state agriculture department to court.

“We really looked into it and realized that it was not only against the law,” Dee said. “It wasn’t scientifically sound.”

For more than a decade, the families who lost their trees fought the state effort and won. The homeowners will share a $16.8 million dollar settlement.

“We’re feeling pretty good about it,” John said. “After 18 years and many appeals by the state of Florida, there’s going to be about 12,000 Lee County residents that are going to get fair compensation for the citrus trees that they lost.”

Homeowners in Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties won similar lawsuits and were also compensated. Twenty thousand homeowners in Orange County are still waiting for their $43 million settlement.

The Klockows told us it’s not about the money

“It just shows that democracy works,” John said.

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