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Cape Coral hoping state, federal officials can intervene in FEMA decision on flood discounts

The canal around SW Second Terrace in Cape Coral has been scraped clean after a crew was instructed to clean storm debris from the canal. Many residents are left wondering what has happened to their beautiful Cape Coral and feel the wildlife, and quiet living has been ruined. Cape Coral is home to burrowing owls and gopher tortoises, the heavy machinery is threatening their habitats along with many of the other wildlife that call Cape Coral home.
Julia Cooper
Special to WGCU
Photo Caption: Federal agents on recovery teams walk around the Cape Coral Yacht Basin to meet Ohio Task Force One.

Communities across Southwest Florida continue to reel after news that they will no longer get steep discounts on flood federal insurance premiums post-Hurricane Ian.

Government leaders in Cape Coral, Fort Myers Beach, Bonita Springs, Estero and unincorporated Lee County were informed last week that policy holders no longer qualified for discounts.

“FEMA is the villain here,” said Cape Coral mayor Dan Gunter at a meeting Wednesday.

Cape Coral residents had been getting 25 percent discounts on flood insurance premiums. Same for Bonita Spring, Fort Myers Beach and unincorporated Lee County. Estero residents were getting 20 percent.

Now none will get discounts.

Sanibel Island and the City of Fort Myers will still be allowed to participate in the discount program.

All the communities in the flood program are rated separately.

In Cape Coral alone this loss of the discounts will have an $8 million impact.

Losing FEMA discounts is the first effect. The next could be probation for unincorporated Lee, Bonita Springs, Fort Myers Beach, Cape Coral and Estero. Ultimately those areas could be dropped from the program all together.

Discounts are based on a number of factors. Chief among them is the enforcement of the 50 percent rule.

Generally speaking, if a home sustained significant damage—meaning the cost to repair would be 50 percent greater than the value of the home prior to the storm, then the home must be torn down and built back to the most recent hurricane and flood standard codes. Those include building back elevation one foot above flood plain levels.

No community has yet been told definitively why they were being significantly downgraded. Later this month FEMA will send them notices explaining the move in detail.

FEMA has shared documentation with WGCU that showed unpermitted work, a lack of documentation and failure to properly monitor the rebuilding of properties in a flood hazard area.

The FEMA requirements that affected the discounts are costly but necessary. They ensure the government — basically the taxpayers — don't continue to help a homeowner rebuild ground-level homes time and time again in coastal flood hazard areas.

Gunter said he has reached out to local state and federal leaders for help to try to keep the community's Community Rating System, or CRS, which is used when calculating the discount: "Together, we are exploring all possible avenues to challenge FEMA's decision and seek a reconsideration of our CRS rating."

Gunter said he was notified in December by FEMA that the government needed additional information regarding 238 properties to determined if the were significantly damaged. Gunter said to-date there are a little more than 50 properties with a status that remain in question.

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