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Compensation Trial for Lee County Citrus Tree Owners Begins

Topher Forhecz/WGCU

The trial is the next step in a lawsuit that was first filed in 2003.

Last year, Judge Keith Kyle ruled the Florida Department of Agriculture and its head, Adam Putnam, were liable for the almost 34,000 trees it destroyed in Lee County from 2000 to 2006 as part of the Citrus Canker Eradication Program.

The trees were destroyed because they were located within a 1,900-foot circle from an infected tree.

At the start of the trial, Kyle told jurors to remember its focus.

“The issue of whether the department was permitted to destroy these trees and whether these trees should or should not have been destroyed is not a matter to be decided by you,” he said. “I have already determined that the department’s destruction of the plaintiffs’ and class members’ trees constituted a governmental taking.”

The plaintiffs said the state should pay up to $19 million in compensation.

The state offered residents $100 Walmart garden center gift cards for the first tree removed and $55 dollar checks for every other tree removed. State officials said it has already paid a total of $1.7 million.

The trial is expected to last until July 10.

Topher is a reporter at WGCU News.