J. Pat Carter  /  AP
Jesse Hardy, seen here on his property during a June 2004 interview at his home in the Florida Everglades, fought for years to keep his property. He settled Wednesday with the state for $4.95 million.
updated 4/13/2005 9:48:13 PM ET 2005-04-14T01:48:13

A man who fought for years to keep his home and businesses in the swampy Everglades has accepted a $4.95 million buyout offer from the state, which plans to restore the wetlands ecosystem.

The deal, approved Wednesday by a Collier County judge after a more than 12-hour mediation hearing, allows Jesse Hardy to remain on his 160 acres until Nov. 30.

Hardy paid $60,000 in 1976 for the land about 40 miles east of downtown Naples, and built a small, corrugated metal-roofed house. He had no electricity and used propane for cooking and refrigeration.

He refused for years to sell, saying he wanted to hold onto a dying rural lifestyle. He also started a fish farm and had a contract to quarry limestone on the site. Hardy lives there with a friend and her son, a 9-year-old boy he considers his own.

The state started eminent domain proceedings last year, and Hardy sued state agencies.

Hardy did not immediately respond to a call seeking comment Wednesday. “He doesn’t care about the money, but you can’t explain it to anyone else because this is such a materialistic world,” longtime friend Pat Humphries said Wednesday.

Land crucial to $8.4 billion project
State officials say the parcel is crucial to the $8.4 billion Everglades Restoration project, which will fill in canals and tear out roads that carved up the fragile ecosystem decades ago.

“He was very proud of his property. We all agreed this was best for the state of Florida, the best for him,” said Ernie Barnett, the state Department of Environmental Protection’s director of ecosystem projects.

Once restored, Hardy’s property and the surrounding areas would rejoin Picayune Strand State Forest and connect with four valuable reserves that surround it, including the Florida Panther Wildlife Refuge and the 10,000 Islands National Wildlife Refuge.

David vs. Goliath’
The state has spent more than two decades negotiating with the owners of 19,000 pieces of former swampland, many of which were bought during a 1960s real estate scam. But none held out for as long — or for as much — as Hardy, who attracted a worldwide following to a cause he framed as a “David vs. Goliath” struggle.

Hardy has not talked much about where he would move next. “He really hasn’t had time to take it in,” Humphries said. “To him, there really isn’t any other place to go.”

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