Homeowners to get $42 million for citrus trees destroyed in Florida | Top stories

Homeowners to get $42 million for citrus trees destroyed in Florida

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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Sixteen years after their legal battle began, about 18,000 Central Florida homeowners will collectively be awarded more than $42 million by the state of Florida for destroying their citrus fruits as part of a an effort to eradicate a harmful citrus disease.

Homeowners in Orange County will receive about $700 per healthy tree destroyed as part of an order issued by state court in Orlando last month. A judgment from a 2014 lawsuit valued each healthy tree at $344, but fees and interest over the years have doubled the payment per tree.

More than 60,000 healthy, uninfected trees were destroyed in Orange County between 2002 and 2006 as part of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ efforts to eradicate citrus canker, the lawsuit alleges. .

Although harmless to humans, citrus canker can cause citrus fruit and leaves to drop prematurely and create nasty lesions on fruit. The lesions release bacterial cells that can spread to other trees through wind, rain or contaminated material, according to the US Department of Agriculture.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services had argued that the homeowners’ trees were a public nuisance and had no value worth compensating. Under the program, healthy trees that were within 580 meters (1,900 ft) of an infected tree were destroyed in an effort to stop the spread of the disease.

As compensation, the state in the 2000s offered Florida homeowners $100 Walmart gift cards for their first tree destroyed and $55 for each additional tree. In cases where landowners have resisted, authorities have threatened to arrest or obtained warrants to enter private property and destroy trees.

The Florida Legislature last year approved payments for Orange County homeowners. A third-party administrator will distribute the checks and track down owners whose addresses are out of date.

Tens of thousands of homeowners in Broward, Lee and Palm Beach counties won class action lawsuits against the state for their downed trees, and compensation varied by county. A case in Miami-Dade County is still pending.

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Follow Mike Schneider on Twitter at https://twitter.com/MikeSchneiderAP


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