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Lee: FEMA removing flood insurance discounts hits residents; unpermitted, undocumented repair work after Ian cited by Agency

A couple carries their belongings out of a flooded mobile home community in Iona Thursday, Sept. 29 one day after Hurricane Ian made landfall in Lee County.
A couple carries belongings out of a home damaged by Hurricane Ian in Fort Myers Beach, Fla., Wednesday, May 24, 2023.

A notice issued by Lee County officials Friday said a change by FEMA that would remove the discount on flood insurance premiums would deliver a "devastating" blow to area residents and seemed "punitive."

However, FEMA officials said they had warned county officials earlier about the possible insurance discount issue.

The notice from Lee County said the FEMA information came Thursday afternoon without prior notice. "FEMA verbally informed Lee County and some of its municipalities late Thursday that it was altering discounts on National Flood Insurance Program premiums that allow residents to save up to 25%, delivering a blow to the community as it continues to recover from the devastation of Hurricane Ian," a Lee County-issued news release said.

A county official confirmed that the change amounted to the discounts being removed completely.

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

The Lee County Attorney’s Office said it would look into what — if any — legal remedies are immediately available.

FEMA spokesperson Lea Crager, responding to a WGCU request to comment, said: “We are committed to helping these communities take appropriate remediation actions to participate in the Community Rating System again and work towards future policy discounts.”

The county notice said that FEMA provided no written notification or documentation outlining specific details that would lead to the rating change, which would take effect Oct. 1.

However, information from other FEMA sources said that the discount removal was due to a large amount of unpermitted work, lack of documentation, and failure to properly monitor activity in special flood hazard areas, including substantial damage compliance.

FEMA sources also said the office has a responsibility following a disaster to ensure communities that participate in the National Flood Insurance Program adopt and enforce floodplain management regulations to reduce impacts from flooding.

According to FEMA, adhering to local regulations allows for premium discounts for policy holders in communities that participate in the Community Rating System and ensures structures are rebuilt to withstand future storms — such as this area had prior to the announcement.

Following Hurricane Ian and over the last 18 months, information from FEMA indicated representatives conducted site visits to several communities to ensure locally adopted floodplain management ordinances were being enforced. 

On Thursday there were calls made by FEMA with five area communities about their status in the National Flood Insurance Program’s Community Rating System, an agency source said. Those calls, the FEMA source said, informed community leaders that they would be losing their discounts for flood insurance policies starting Oct. 1, 2024.

The Miami Herald reported Friday that another FEMA official told the newspaper that what happened was a failure to properly monitor the activity in the special flood hazard area.

The Herald reported that the FEMA official said the communities could not or did not provide FEMA with the number of homes that were substantially damaged by Hurricane Ian and how many were properly elevated to the new code.

The Herald said FEMA shared with the newspaper three letters it sent Lee County in 2023 — one in February, one in June and one in December — asking for information on the number of damaged homes and warning that not providing the information could result in the county losing its flood insurance discounts.

There was no response from Lee County officials to a request for comment about the FEMA letter information late Friday.

The county's notice Friday pointed to the county's work in FEMA’s Community Rating System (CRS) that it said resulted in saving taxpayers a $14 million to $17 million annually in unincorporated Lee County alone. The county said that considering the cities within Lee County, the savings is in the tens of millions of dollars.

"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 notice said.

The county said that about 699,000 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 notice quoted Bonita Mayor Rick Steinmeyer. He said the city has spent years complying with the FEMA CRS Program successfully: “After being devastated 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.”

Cape Coral Mayor John Gunter also weighed in via the county notice, saying he was “deeply troubled by the federal government's unilateral decision regarding altering Cape Coral’s flood insurance rating.”

Gunter added: “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.”

Cape Coral City Manager Michael Ilczyszyn said, “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.”

Town of Fort Myers Beach Mayor Dan Allers added his voice to the county's notice of the FEMA change: “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.”

There are 51,103 NFIP policies in force in unincorporated Lee County, which has a population of about 388,000.

“County Administration and our Board want 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 said. “This is critical to mitigate the potential impact to our residents. There must be an appeal process.”

Background information provided by Lee County said the county for the past 17 years has had a National Flood Insurance Program rating low enough that flood insurance policy holders in unincorporated Lee County had a 25% discount on standard federal flood insurance policies — a discount collectively valued at $14 million to $17 million annually.

Every three years, the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) conducts a field visit to audit unincorporated Lee County’s ongoing floodplain management activities and flood-mapping records. After the audit, Lee County receives notification that the county retains its Class 5 rating to earn the 25% discount in the NFIP’s Community Rating System (CRS).

The CRS program was implemented by the federal government as a voluntary program for recognizing and encouraging community floodplain management activities exceeding the minimum NFIP standards. The CRS provides incentives in the form of premium discounts (in 5% increments) using a rating system from Class 10 (low) to Class 1 (high). Those activities include maintaining FEMA-established base flood elevations for new construction and providing community documentation, information and enforcement of FEMA’s Flood Insurance Rate Maps.


  • Lee County joined the NFIP program in 1984.
  • There are 51,103 NFIP policy holders in unincorporated Lee County with coverage of more than $13 billion.
  • Unincorporated Lee County joined the CRS program in October 1991 and achieved a Class 5 rating in 2007.
  • A Class 5 rating allows for a 25% flood insurance discount.
  • The value of this discount in unincorporated Lee County is $14 million to $17 million annually.
  • All jurisdictions in Lee County are members of the NFIP and all participate in the CRS program.

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