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Editorial | Thank you to city staff

By Staff | May 11, 2024

It took a whirlwind of effort but the city of Cape Coral reached its original deadline Thursday, submitting to FEMA the answers the federal agency sought concerning floodplain compliance with rebuilding efforts following Hurricane Ian.

Documentation for the remaining 54 properties Federal Emergency Management Agency officials alleged were in violation of its regulations because they lacked required permitting has been submitted, city officials announced.

After holding a series of code enforcement hearings, the city found that only 11% of the original 238 addresses provided by FEMA ultimately were found to be non-compliant. That is less than half of FEMA’s finding of 23%, which resulted in notification to the city that property owners here would lose their 25% discount on National Flood Insurance policies.

Mayor John Gunter said Thursday that the effort — which included not only the compilation of additional documents and code hearings, but earlier weeks of fact-finding and discussions — would not have been possible without the dedication of city staff and City Manager Michael Ilczyszyn.

We agree.

Thank you to Mr. Ilczyszyn and his team, who worked 12-hour days and seven-day weeks to produce in 30 days the “thousands of documents” the city believes should provide proof that it acted with diligence to meet federal regulations in the wake of the Category 4 storm that wreaked billions of dollars in damage in Lee County,

The ball is now again in FEMA’s court.

Citing what it alleged was “the large amount of unpermitted work, lack of documentation, and failure to properly monitor activity in special flood hazard areas, including substantial damage compliance,” FEMA “retrograded” its Community Rating System grade for unincorporated Lee and four of its municipalities, including Cape Coral and Fort Myers Beach.

FEMA’s CRS retrograde, from a 5 to a 10 — the lowest possible score — meant policy holders in the affected area no longer would qualify for any premium discount at all.

Where are we now?

FEMA will decide whether the city retains its grade of 5 or receives some other on the 10-1 scale the agency uses to reward pro-active efforts and punish non-compliance.

With about 699,000 residents living in areas that will be impacted by the FEMA decision, a lot of money is at stake: The 25% discount saves taxpayers a collective $14 million to $17 million annually in unincorporated Lee County alone.

“Optimistic” is seldom a word we use when it comes to predicting bureaucratic outcomes.

We will make no prediction here.

We will, though, say that the city, through its comprehensive previous report and its voluminous final effort, has dashed much of FEMA’s findings.

Staff is not only to be thanked, but commended for the work performed.

Breeze editorial