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Lee County given 'any and all tools' to fight FEMA decision

Several options are being discussed, including an appeal and hiring a consultant top go plead the county's case in Washington, D.C.

  • By Louis Llovio
  • | 2:00 p.m. April 2, 2024
  • | 2 Free Articles Remaining!
Driving down Estero Boulevard, the main road that runs the length of Fort Myers Beach, the widespread destruction that Hurricane Ian wrought is still on full display.
Driving down Estero Boulevard, the main road that runs the length of Fort Myers Beach, the widespread destruction that Hurricane Ian wrought is still on full display.
Photo by Stefania Pifferi
  • Charlotte–Lee–Collier
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Lee County commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday morning to empower its staff to look at options to reverse a Federal Emergency Management Agency decision that will raise flood insurance rates for some residents by 25%.

Commissioners, in responding to FEMA downgrading the county’s National Flood Insurance Program rating status that qualified it for a discount, voted to allow the county’s administration to respond to allegations it failed to meet compliance requirements that led to it being stripped of its previous rating.

The goal of the resolution is “getting to an appeal and getting this overturned,” says Commissioner Brian Hamman who represents District 4. That includes the possibility of hiring a consultant to help the county, pursuing legal action and traveling to Washington, D.C., to plead its case in person.

In a news release after the meeting, the county said commissioners voted to “grant ‘any and all tools’ needed by county staff to investigate and work to address” FEMA’s decision.

No one from the federal agency spoke at the meeting.

During the nearly hourlong discussion, the blame for the FEMA downgrade was placed on wide range of causes, from a paperwork snafu to an alleged vast partisan conspiracy to punish Lee for its conservative politics.

But according to FEMA, Lee lost the rating status after it failed to adhere to regulations that allow for premium discounts for policy holders in communities that qualify through the Community Rating System. The agency says the county did not meet the requirement to qualify for the discount due to the large amount of unpermitted work, lack of documentation and a failure to properly monitor activity in special flood hazard areas, including substantial damage compliance.

FEMA informed officials in Lee, Bonita Springs, Cape Coral, Estero and Fort Myers Beach March 28 that it would be downgraded in the National Flood Insurance Program’s Community Rating System beginning Oct. 1.

Lee officials dispute the agency's allegations, saying the county complied with FEMA and provided all that the agency asked for.

But officials continued to push the narrative at Tuesday's county commission meeting that it was blindsided by the decision despite three letters from FEMA that included warnings that it risked losing the discount if it did not meet the requirements.

And, despite those FEMA letters that included the warnings, Lee County Manager Dave Harner told commissioner that “at no time where we notified that we were in jeopardy of being” downgraded.

“Our expectation, along with the municipalities, would be the assumption that there would be some type of a warning, a direct warning that you are in violation or you are close to losing your CRS rating and this is what you need to do,” he says.

“At no time did we get an email that said you need to do A, B and C in order not to lose that CRS rating.”

Before making that comment, though, Harner broke down when and how the county responded to FEMA’s requests in the letters and in other emails

While placing blame has seemed like the priority for some officials to this point, Tuesday’s discussion was partly aimed at finding a solution to a problem that will affect thousands of county residents already dealing with rising insurance costs and the aftermath of Hurricane Ian. According to the county, in unincorporated Lee alone there are 51,103 National Flood Insurance Program policies with coverage of more than $13 billion.

For now, there are no concrete plans for how the county will move forward, but the authorization is geared toward looking at what options the county may have to regain the rating and the discount it allows.



Louis Llovio

Louis Llovio is the commercial real estate editor at the Business Observer. Before going to work at the Observer, the longtime business writer worked at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Maryland Daily Record and for the Baltimore Sun Media Group. He lives in Tampa.

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