On September 28, 2022, Hurricane Ian damaged or destroyed nearly every structure on Fort Myers Beach. In the months that followed, many of you entered the painful process of getting permits to repair your property. Some of you didn’t. Those of you who didn’t are about to feel some additional pain.
According to a FEMA audit of all Fort Myers Beach structures, about 106 properties were repaired without a permit, or, without properly calculating FEMA’s 50% rule. FEMA’s 50% rule prohibits repairs and improvements on damaged homes exceeding 50% of their market value unless the entire residential structure is brought up to the most current floodplain management regulations. The list includes residential homes and condo buildings.
For months Fort Myers Beach Mayor Dan Allers warned residents not to make repairs without permits and said repeatedly on Mondays With The Mayor that anyone who did work without a permit would wind up paying the price down the road.
We are now down that road.
This all has to do with FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program and those that are on FEMA’s naughty list could impact what every property owner on Fort Myers Beach pays for flood insurance if they do not come into compliance. When it comes to the National Flood Insurance Program, FEMA sets rates based on risk. With over 100 properties now possibly out of compliance, FEMA could determine Fort Myers Beach is now at a higher risk, lowering the beach’s rating, and costing everyone more in flood insurance.
The FEMA list given to the town includes property addresses “identified by FEMA as possible violations to the local floodplain management laws and regulations.” If you were wondering what the addresses were, you can forget about finding out. We tried to get the list. The property addresses are protected by the Federal Privacy Act of 1974 and the town could get in some serious trouble if they share it with any third party.
This all adds a new layer of work onto an already overworked town staff. It’s the town’s responsibility now to fix the 106 alleged problem properties. Even if the town was wrong in issuing a permit, causing a property to fall out of compliance, it falls on the town to fix it. Communities have a responsibility to enforce all adopted floodplain development regulations in their local floodplain ordinance.
So what happens if you’re on the list? What if you did work without a permit or you did work that FEMA calculates was inaccurate when it comes to their 50% rule? If a property is determined to be substantially damaged or improved, the town needs to let the property owner know that the structure would now need to come into compliance with floodplain regulations. Coming into compliance could mean elevation or demolition of the structure. If a property is in violation, the town needs to exhaust all measures to bring a property into compliance with floodplain management regulations. This would be going through the entire code process up to imposing liens on the property. If the property owner continues to choose not to comply, the town would then turn to FEMA for guidance in issuing a declaration under Section 1316 of the National Flood Insurance Act of 1968 which denies flood insurance coverage for any property which is found to be in violation of state or local floodplain management regulations.
Town Manager Andy Hyatt says invoking Section 1316 is a last resort to compel property owners after other measures to gain compliance have failed and the declaration may be rescinded once the structure is brought into compliance.