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Florida to pay $11.5 million for cutting citrus trees

The jury verdict comes in the first of five lawsuits seeking compensation for backyard trees destroyed in disease-prevention efforts.

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A south Florida jury has ordered the State of Florida to pay $11.5 million as compensation to 58,225 residents of Broward County after the state cut down all the citrus trees in their yards in a disease-prevention effort.

The verdict, announced Tuesday evening, was significantly lower than lawyers for the homeowners had requested. Several homeowners disagreed with the size of the award and lawyers for both sides suggest they may appeal.

"I'm extremely disappointed," said Robert Gilbert, a Coral Gables lawyer, representing the homeowners.

"This case from Day 1 has been about the constitutional guarantee of full compensation when private property is taken for a public purpose," he said. "What happened here is nothing less than a chipping away at a fundamental guarantee in the Constitution."

On a per tree basis, the award is $86 per tree for the 133,720 trees destroyed in Broward County as part of an emergency effort to insulate the state's commercial citrus industry from an outbreak of citrus canker disease.

State agriculture officials pursued the controversial eradication policy from January 2000 to January 2006 after canker disease was detected in a residential neighborhood in Miami-Dade County.

State work crews confronted residents with court orders and chain saws, sparking an outcry by Floridians who treasure their backyard citrus trees and the fruit they produce.

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