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Not business as usual for farmers in Keys

BY PJ HELLER | BIG PINE KEY, Fla. | November 9, 1998

BIG PINE KEY, Fla. (Nov. 9, 1998) - Parks Banks looks out over his coconut

plantation, row upon row of once stately trees that are now leaning over

toward the ground.

"We're ruined," says Banks ruefully.

While many businesses in the Florida Keys have recovered from the

devastation caused by Hurricane Georges, some, like Banks' tree farm, will

require years before they are viable again.

Georges spared Banks' house -- it suffered only minor damage and was insured

-- but the storm's 100-plus mile per hour winds were too much for the

coconut trees to withstand when the storm hit here Sept. 25.

Some 80 to 90 percent of the more than 400 trees on his property are now

nothing more than mulch. The plantation, situated down a long gravel road

near the center of the island, was not insured.

"It's almost a total loss," Banks said. "I may be able to save a few of

them."

"It's heartbreaking," he added.

Banks estimated that it will take at least five years before his business

recovers. He put the economic loss from the trees alone at more than

$250,000.

"We had more than 400 trees," he noted. "At $50 a wood foot, that's a lot

of money."

A wood foot is measured from the ground to the branches of the tree (the

clear trunk area), he explained. His trees typically had anywhere from 10

feet to 16 feet of clear trunk, making each tree worth from $500 to $800.

The trees are sold to landscapers.

More than one month after the storm, Banks was continuing to clean up his

property. He used a skip loader to push a small motorboat to the side of

the road and pointed out a myriad of smaller items - everything from car

tires to clothes - which littered the landscape.

Despite his loss, Banks said he was thankful his house survived the storm

and that he was away from the area when Georges hit. He has a goat farm in

North Carolina where he spends the summers and a smaller 10-acre tree farm

in Homestead, Fla.

"I was lucky as all get out," he said.

Posted Nov. 9, 1998


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