The Great Largo Gumbo Limbo Imbroglio

When 350 trees fall in a protected North Key forest, they make a very loud noise

Should it come to replanting, the Bell Family would have to look no further than Manuel Diaz, who has plenty of experience in the field. Diaz is the primary supplier and installer of trees to the Metro-Dade Parks and Recreation Department's multimillion-dollar replanting program. William Cutie, assistant director of construction management for the department, calculates that Manuel Diaz Farms has already planted more than 20,000 trees, or three million dollars' worth, since the replanting contract began in June. He estimates Diaz will plant an additional $2.5 million worth by May, when the contract expires. Gumbo limbo trees are among the plants Metro has ordered from Diaz.

Cutie admitted last week that he didn't know about Diaz's difficulties in North Key Largo. "When we go and buy trees, we take a look around the nursery and say we want certain ones," Cutie says, "but we never know where they actually come from."

Officials in the Florida Keys don't think Manuel Diaz is so wonderful. In fact, they say he's a tree poacher.

"I'm really incensed that Manny was down here raping our hammock. I'm sorry to say it, but he's a dirtbag."

Monroe County biologist Niko Reisinger

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