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Lee government in a race to try to get decision reversed on federal flood insurance premiums

More flooding in the San Carlos Estates Water Control District after Hurricane Irma.
Submitted/Photo provided by Jim Bradford
WGCU/Democracy Watch
More flooding in the San Carlos Estates Water Control District after Hurricane Irma.

Lee County government is gearing up for a fight with the federal government over its recent decision to severely downgrade its community flood rating, affectively taking away the 25 percent discount policy holders received for their federal flood insurance premiums.

The community rating system is a voluntary incentive program that recognizes and encourages community flood plain management practices that exceed the minimum requirements of the National Flood Insurance Program. Over 1,500 communities participate nationwide.

The decision was meted out Thursday in phone calls between federal officials and leaders of Lee, Cape Coral, Bonita Springs and Estero governments. The government leaders were told the decision was binding. But Tuesday, all five members of the Lee’s Board of County Commissioners voted to take any means necessary to get the FEMA decision reversed.

“I heard the comment a couple of times that there’s no appeal available to us and I just don’t accept that not here in American where we believe in due process here,” said county commissioner Brian Hamman.

FEMA cited unpermitted work, a lack of documentation and failure to properly monitor the rebuilding of properties in a flood hazard area in the post-Hurricane Ian world in documentation it provided to WGCU.

Lee officials maintained that FEMA was provided with all it needed in a long-list of emails seeking documentation and clarification dating back to February 2023.

County Manager Dave Harner told the commission Tuesday that despite a back-and-forth, no one was ever warned the county was in danger losing the standing in the Community Rating System, or CRS, that it has held for the last 17 years.

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

The ratings of Sanibel Island and the city of Fort Myers were not downgraded and policy holders in those cities will continue to receive discounts.

The loss of premium discounts is the first step in a process that could throw Lee and the other municipalities out of the Federal Flood Insurance Program, which would have devastating impact if another catastrophic hurricane hits here.

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