Not for Sale

By: Rebecca Underwood
By: Rebecca Underwood

Jesse James Hardy, yes, that's his name, doesn't like some of the things big city folks call him.

"I'm not no recluse and I'm not no hermit,“ he says.

Jesse James owns 160 acres of mostly hard ground, thick brush, palm and pine trees in southwest Florida near Naples. He built the house himself. A rented generator runs the AC.

"I use propane for refrigeration and cooking," he adds.

Hardy is a man who just wants to be left alone, but that's not ‘gonna happen. You see, he stands in the way of perhaps the most ambitious environmental project ever undertaken, the $8 billion Everglades restoration. Hardy's land is part of 55,000 acres that would be reflooded to return the Everglades to a river of grass.

"Without that critical last piece of property in public ownership we would not be able to do the restoration project without jeopardizing his constitutionally afforded rights for flood protection."

In 1976 Hardy, a disabled former Navy Seal, paid $60,000 for the land. The state is offering him four and a half million. He's not selling. At 68 years old, Hardy asks, what would he do with the money?

"I quit the cigarettes and the pina coladas and I'm to the point age wise that the women ain't lookin’ that brightly anymore anyway, so four and a half million dollars is not that important to me. They should have give that to me 30 or 40 years ago and I would have been out of here!"

Now Hardy just wants to start a fish farm. He's got one pond filled with bream and bass and Oscars. When the quarry operation he leases land to is finished digging out the rock, he'll have another pond.

Hardy and the state are still negotiating.

"The only way you can fight em is in court. You know what happened at Waco, you know what happened at some of those other places. If they put the heat on you gone."

If negotiations fail, Florida says it will use its eminent domain authority to force him to sell the piece of land that until now no one wanted except Jesse James Hardy.


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