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Lee County Commissioners discussed plans April 2 to address the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s decision that unincorporated Lee County and its municipalities, other than Sanibel Island and the city of Fort Myers, would be losing a 25% discount on flood insurance, effective Oct. 1. 

On April 8, FEMA announced a 30-day pause on the decision for the five communities to gather requested documentation and retain their standing in the Community Rating System, which determines policy discounts for residents.  

FEMA officials said the retrograde in the county is due to the large amount of unpermitted work, lack of documentation and failure to properly monitor activity in special flood hazard areas, including substantial damage compliance. 

However, County Manager Dave Harner said that’s not the case. “The staff, I think we all got to see that passion, that commitment,” he said. “The folks that we have are committed to what they’re doing. I’m very confident that we have the documentation. I’m very confident in our staff.” 

Harner said several items were addressed, including code enforcement violations and demolition permits. 

Since the hurricane, county officials said 5,087 demolition permits were issued in just the special flood hazard areas. The county also issued 2,151 violations for work with no permits. 

Additionally, Harner said there are two processes to determine substantial damage, with one being going out and determining substantial damage and the other being determining substantial damage through people who come in for permitting.  

The county chose the latter.  

“You need a ton of people to do that,” Harner said of the first process. “The problem is, when you’re devastated like Lee County was, and I’m not talking the entity, I’m talking all the municipalities, that is a large number of people that you need in order to go out and look at all those homes that determined substantial damage.” 

Harner said with the second process, comes ways to assess substantial damage. 

“That is your windshield assessment. Also, creating and understanding all those areas in the special flood hazard areas to know when those permits are coming in, earmark and do visuals to ensure that people are following the process,” Harner said. “That was the mechanism we chose because it’s impossible to have that number of people in here to do those types of inspections when you’re talking about all the municipalities in Lee County.” 

The county and municipalities affected have asked for an extension of the 30-day hold, but Harner said that is still being discussed. 

The county is now having weekly meetings with Sen. Rick Scott to address the issue. It also met with a FEMA administrator, staff and the district administrator, which is the office that made the initial decision for retrograde.  

“I do feel confident that our staff will be able to provide the documentation based on the conversations we had to ensure we’ve been compliant and keep our rating,” Harner said. 

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