Florida will pay at least 18,000 homeowners in the state's central part for destroying their citrus trees during an effort to eradicate a dangerous citrus disease.

According to U.S. News, the homeowners in central Florida will finally be paid more than $42 million collectively by the state's agriculture agency 16 years after their legal battle began.

Checks will arrive in the mail as early as next week, their attorney, Robert Gilbert, said Thursday. Gilbert sued the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services on behalf of homeowners in 2005.

Florida Homeowners Win the Legal Battle That Started Over a Decade Ago

Robert Gilbert has accused authorities of wrongfully eliminating healthy citrus trees on private residential properties during the canker scare from 2000 to 2006. 

"It's been a long journey," the lawyer said of the 17-year-old court battle.

As part of an order issued in state court in Orlando last month, residents in Orange County would receive around $700 for each healthy tree destroyed.

The value of each healthy tree was estimated at $344 in a 2014 trial decision that assessed the value of each healthy tree but fees and interest doubled the per-tree payment over the years.

Between 2002 and 2006, the lawsuit said more than 60,000 healthy and uninfected trees on 18,280 residential properties in Orange County were destroyed as part of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services' efforts to eliminate citrus canker.

The bacterium Xanthomonas axonopodis causes the citrus disease called citrus canker. While canker is not hazardous to humans, it significantly impacts citrus tree health, causing leaves and fruit to drop prematurely and create not appealing lesions on the fruit.

These lesions release bacterial cells that can spread to surrounding trees through rain, wind, or contaminated equipment, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said.

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Florida Residents Refused to Destroy Citrus Trees

Scott Fishman, a 63-year-old Bay Hill resident and a named plaintiff in the case, said agriculture agents and armed Orange County deputies, came to his home in April 2003 to destroy a lemon tree, a grapefruit tree planted in memory of his wife's father, and an orange tree planted to mark his son's birth, Orlando Sentinel reported.

"They didn't ask politely... they just said we're taking the trees," Fishman recalled, adding that it was "very troubling," and his wife was in tears at the time.

Agents presented paperwork authorizing them to take down every citrus tree within 1,900 feet of a sick one -more than six football fields away.

Hundreds of Orange County property owners have openly refused to let state agents onto their properties, despite the state's call for cooperation.

When homeowners resisted, authorities threatened to arrest them or obtained warrants to go into the private property and destroy the trees.

In the 2000s, the state of Florida compensated residents by giving them $100 Walmart gift cards for the first tree destroyed and $55 for each additional tree. Last year, the Florida Legislature approved payments for the Orange County residents.

The checks will be distributed by a third-party administrator, who will also track down residents whose addresses have changed.

Thousands of homeowners in Broward, Lee, and Palm Beach counties won class-action lawsuits against the state of Florida over their knock-down trees. Compensations depend on the county.

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