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Lee Co. leaders call 'late' flood insurance change 'devastating'

Lee County says nearly 700,000 residents in the City of Bonita Springs, City of Cape Coral, Village of Estero, Town of Fort Myers Beach and unincorporated Lee County will be impacted.
Hurricane Ian
Posted at 4:49 PM, Mar 29, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-02 10:51:27-04

LEE COUNTY, Fla. — Lee County representatives say FEMA verbally informed the county and some of its municipalities late Thursday that the organization is canceling discounts on its National Flood Insurance Program premiums - which allows residents to save up to 25%.

County leaders are now calling on FEMA to suspend its decision until "meaningful discussion can occur, so the county and its municipal partners have opportunities to address FEMA's concerns", Lee County Manager Dave Harner says.

"This is critical to mitigate the potential impact to our residents. There must be an appeal process," Harner says in the statement.

In a statement on Friday, the county outlined that the decision "delivers a blow to the community as it continues to recover from the devastation of Hurricane Ian."

The county says FEMA provided no written notification or documentation outlining any specific details that would lead to this sudden rating change - which would take effect on October 1st.

"The county's diligent work in FEMA'S Community Rating (CRS) has resulted in saving taxpayers a collective $14 million to $17 million annually in unincorporated Lee County alone. When considering the cities within Lee County, the savings is in the tens of millions of dollars," the county says in the statement issued on Friday, March 29th.

Lee County says about nearly 700,000 residents live in areas that will be impacted by the FEMA decision – City of Bonita Springs, City of Cape Coral, Village of Estero, Town of Fort Myers Beach and unincorporated Lee County. The county says
there are 51,103 NFIP policies in force in unincorporated Lee County - which has a population of about 388,000.

Local government leaders say they are committed to addressing the issue with the federal government. According to the statement, Lee County Attorney's Office is looking into any legal remedies that could be immediately available.

Several Lee County leaders have responded to the decision and their answers were included in the statement provided to FOX 4:

Dan Allers, Mayor
Town of Fort Myers Beach

Town of Fort Myers Beach Mayor Dan Allers said, “Without warning or communication, a rash decision like this will significantly strain our residents struggling to recover from Hurricane Ian. The Town of Fort Myers Beach has always gone above and beyond to maintain our CRS rating and request FEMA suspend their decision.”

Mike Greenwell, Chairman
Lee County Board of County Commission

“For the federal government to have made this decision without any prior discussions seems punitive,” said Lee Board of County Commission Chairman Mike Greenwell. “Ian was the third costliest hurricane to hit the United States, and many of our residents are still reeling financially from its impacts.”

John Gunter, Mayor

City of Cape Coral

Cape Coral Mayor John Gunter said he is “deeply troubled by the federal government's unilateral decision regarding altering Cape Coral’s flood insurance rating.” He also said, “The federal government must provide the support our community desperately needs to ensure they retain the discounts they currently receive on their national flood insurance premiums. The timing of this decision after our community suffered a devastating Category 5 hurricane is just wrong. Make no mistake – FEMA is the villain in this nightmare.”

Michael Ilczyszyn, City Manager
City of Cape Coral

“I am partnering with County Administration and our City Council in calling for FEMA to immediately suspend its decision until meaningful discussions can occur, as we have worked hard over many years to attain the rating currently held. It's crucial that the county and its municipalities have opportunities to address FEMA’s concerns. FEMA’s decision was made without providing documented evidence of the alleged noncompliance. Despite the often upsetting and challenging work performed by City staff to enforce the substantial improvement/substantial damage (50% Rule) in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, this notification doubles down the financial impacts our residents and businesses already suffered.”

Rick Steinmeyer, Mayor

Bonita Springs

The City of Bonita Springs has spent years complying with the FEMA CRS Program successfully, Mayor Rick Steinmeyer said. “After being devasted by multiple hurricanes in recent years, the impact of this decision would be damaging to our residents. Our residents deserve the opportunity to appeal the decision. To withhold the option of an appeal is unacceptable.”

"Extensive efforts – particularly after Hurricane Ian – have been made to demonstrate to the federal government that the county and its city partners go above and beyond what’s required to meet and exceed FEMA and NFIP standards," the county says.