Post-Hurricane Ian Compliance Response to FEMA submitted June 3


Executive Summary: 

On September 28, 2022, Hurricane Ian devastated Lee County with Category 4 winds and catastrophic flooding caused by unprecedented storm surge. Though chaos reigned in the immediate aftermath of the third costliest storm in U.S. history, priorities were clear: executing search and rescue operations, clearing roadways and debris, and providing shelter for the displaced. While this response stretched resources to the breaking point, Lee County nevertheless maintained its steadfast commitment to exercise the highest standards of floodplain management.

Amidst the turmoil of responding to a storm that claimed many innocent lives and rendered thousands more homeless, Lee County continually made decisions rooted in adherence to FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and Community Rating System (CRS) requirements and guidelines. This report highlights the most important of those decisions, details their timing, and demonstrates how Lee County not only satisfied vital minimum NFIP Floodplain standards but enforced the State’s higher floodplain management standards, as well.

For over 40 years, Lee County has enjoyed an exemplary working relationship with FEMA. Since joining the CRS program in 1991, the County has spent millions of dollars on studies, consultants, and projects to mitigate the risks of flood damage and obtain a favorable rating for our residents and taxpayers. This was evidenced most recently by FEMA’s determination that Lee County would retain its Class 5 CRS rating following a field verification completed in February of 2023 (six months after Hurricane Ian made landfall).

This document provides a comprehensive overview of the actions taken by Lee County’s Department of Community Development (DCD) to facilitate a swift recovery, including making rapid damage assessments, adjusting permitting processes, and conducting public outreach initiatives to educate residents on floodplain management and building compliance. The narrative covers initial response activities, substantial improvement/ substantial damage (SI/SD) determinations, building inspection processes, and ongoing mitigation efforts. It also emphasizes challenges such as dealing with limited staff resources and the rapid pace of information dissemination.

To highlight one issue in particular, Lee County chose one of two FEMA-approved methods for making SI/SD determinations. Owing to monumental staffing challenges and widespread physical devastation over hundreds of square miles, Lee County utilized the option allowed under FEMA NFIP guidelines to notify property owners of the requirements to get permits and conduct SI/SD determinations at the time of permit application utilizing initial damage assessment (IDA) information. This decision is explained in detail, along with the related complexities of managing storm debris and its implications for flood damage assessment.

The document also discusses the County’s use of aerial imagery and GIS tools; describes permitting and code enforcement processes deployed and how they align with FEMA CRS guidelines; outlines over 5,800 citations for work without a permit, unpermitted building maintenance, and stop-work orders issued after Hurricane Ian; and details how FEMA guidance has been incorporated during the issuance of over 108,000 building permits since October 2022.

Even while proactively administering robust floodplain management activities to protect our community, Lee County has identified areas for improvement throughout the recovery process. As a result, the County has enhanced processes and procedures, further invested in staff training and technology solutions, and expanded public outreach programs to educate residents about flood risks and compliance.

As Lee County navigates long-term recovery efforts, we remain dedicated to the highest standards of floodplain management and community resilience. We continue to work collaboratively with federal, state, and local partners to build a stronger, safer, and more prepared community.



Lee County’s Floodplain Management Post-Hurricane Ian Compliance Response to FEMA

What is the National Flood Insurance Program?


The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which is administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), is a federal provider of flood insurance policies. Flood insurance is required for federally insured mortgages on structures in areas designated as a Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA). FEMA requires that communities participating in the NFIP implement a minimum standard of floodplain management functions, including zoning, building codes, enforcement, education, and other tasks. Lee County joined the NFIP in September 1984 when the County adopted its first Flood Insurance Study (FIS) and Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs). Those FIS and FIRM established flood zones and base flood elevations (BFEs) as the minimum standard for regulating development in the SFHA and for use in determining flood insurance premiums.

What is the Community Rating System?


The Community Rating System (CRS) is a program that offers discounts on flood insurance premiums to communities for implementating flood protection activities that exceed the NFIP minimum requirements. The benefit to citizens is not only lower insurance premiums, but also a more flood resilient community.

Unincorporated Lee County joined the CRS program in October 1991 and achieved a Class 5 rating in 2007. All jurisdictions in Lee County are members of the NFIP and all participate in the CRS program.

Lee County has earned CRS credit points for a wide variety of activities which actively improve our County’s flood resiliency, as described in the CRS Coordinator’s Manual, including Construction Certificate Management, Map Information Services, Outreach Projects, Flood Protection Information and Assistance, Open Space Preservation, Higher Regulatory Standards, Flood Data Maintenance, Stormwater Management, Drainage System Maintenance and Flood Warning and Response. 

Since 2013, Lee County government alone has invested more than $13.4 million on consulting services and the continuing education of Certified Floodplain Managers (CFMs) to deliver high-quality compliance with NFIP and CRS standards. This investment includes hydrologic and hydraulic modeling to ensure the accuracy of the flood data represented in the FIS and FIRMs, and establish BFEs for areas where there are gaps in FEMA's data. The pattern of flooding and storm damage from Hurricane Ian validated the accuracy of that information.

Lee County has multiple CFMs within the organization. The floodplain management team is led by a CFM who oversees all aspects of floodplain management, including floodway and channel protection, drainage system maintenance and open space preservation, as well as coordinates all creditable activities in the CRS program to continue to earn residents in Unincorporated Lee County a discount on NFIP policy premiums. 

The county receives tri-annual reviews from FEMA to verify NFIP and CRS compliance.  The most recent verification results reported by FEMA in February 2023 determined Lee County met the requirements to retain its current rating of Class 5 in the NFIP CRS.

Timeline


FEMA verbally informed Lee County and four of its municipalities on March 29, 2024, that it was potentially removing discounts on NFIP premiums that allow residents to save up to 25%. This decision would adversely impact all NFIP policy holders in Unincorporated Lee County, including those who continue to recover from the devastation of Hurricane Ian.

The County’s diligent work in the FEMA CRS program has saved taxpayers a collective $14 million to $17 million annually in Unincorporated Lee County. Through Lee County's investment of time, staff, funding, and resources since joining the CRS Program, especially since earning and maintaining a Class 5 (25% discount) since 2007, the cumulative savings provided for residents are in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Lee County and four other affected jurisdictions, sent a letter to FEMA on Friday, April 5, 2024. 

On Monday, April 8, Lee County received a letter and an attached findings report from FEMA related to the NFIP issue. This letter granted a 30-day extension to address FEMA’s concerns related to the County’s compliance with the NFIP and the resulting retrograde of the County’s CRS class. Staff subject matter experts are currently reviewing the findings report and related information.

Furthermore, Lee County Manager Dave Harner and the managers from the four municipalities – the City of Bonita Springs, City of Cape Coral, Village of Estero, and Town of Fort Myers Beach – met with FEMA representatives late Monday, April 8, and Thursday, April 11. Lee County and the municipalities sent a joint letter to FEMA on Friday, April 12, 2024.

The County is working with its partners at FEMA to provide all requested and required documentation during the 30-day extension period in order to reverse FEMA's decision to remove Lee County's CRS discount.  

On June 3, 2024, Lee County submitted all requested documentation to FEMA, including Lee County’s Floodplain Management Post-Hurricane Ian ComplianceResponse to FEMA.

FAQ

Lee County residents who hold an NFIP policy, including policies outside of the Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA), receive a discount on the full-risk premium. This discount is based on Lee County’s CRS Class Rating.

Since 2007, Lee County has held a Class 5 rating in the CRS program, earning Lee County residents a 25% discount on the full-risk premium for all NFIP policies.

If you have NFIP flood insurance, the CRS Reduction amount should be found on your policy declaration page. 

The NFIP requires that any structure located in the Special Flood Hazard Area (flood zones beginning with A and V) where the cost of proposed improvements or repairs equals or exceeds 50% of the value of the structure must be brought into full compliance with current flood damage prevention regulations.

At the time of permit application, Unincorporated Lee County will use the assessed value of your structure (excluding the land) recorded by the Property Appraiser’s Office. Staff will evaluate the cost of improvements or repairs and determine if they are fair and reasonable. For damage repairs, pre-storm prices and rates will be utilized.

If it has been determined that your structure has incurred “substantial damage” or your proposed remodel/renovation work is determined to be "substantial improvement,” full compliance for the entire structure with current flood damage prevention must now be achieved.

If the initial cost information provided for your proposed project is too close to the 50% threshold to determine if the work is Substantial Improvement, then a detailed and complete cost estimate for the addition, remodeling, reconstruction of the structure, prepared and signed by the contractor. The contractor must sign an affidavit indicating that the cost estimate submitted includes repairs of all damages or all improvements to your structure, not just structural. If the owner is the contractor, the owner is responsible for submitting the cost estimate and providing documentation, including subcontractor bids, to document the cost estimate.

If structure is located in a V-zone, Coastal High Hazard Area, or if the non-residential building is to be floodproofed, these building plans must be prepared and certified by a registered professional engineer or architect.

Media Toolkit


Press Releases

6/04/24 - Lee County provides update on FEMA National Flood Insurance Program issue

6/03/24 - Lee County to offer update on FEMA National Flood Insurance Program

4/19/24 - Lee County's collaborative efforts with FEMA result in 30-day extension on deadline

4/16/24 - Lee County offers update on FEMA National Flood Insurance Program issue

4/15/24 - Lee County offers update on FEMA National Flood Insurance Program issue

4/09/24 - Lee County offers update on FEMA National Flood Insurance Program issue

4/05/24 - Lee County and municipalities offer update on FEMA National Flood Insurance Program determination

4/02/24 - Lee Commissioners address FEMA National Flood Insurance Program determination

4/01/24 - Lee County provides clarity related to FEMA’s statements

3/29/24 - FEMA delivers late, devastating blow to Lee County residents already impacted by Hurricane Ian

Additional Resources

PDF_32.pngLee County’s Floodplain Management Post-Hurricane Ian Compliance Response to FEMA

PDF_32.pngExecutive Summary of Lee County’s Floodplain Management Post-Hurricane Ian Compliance Response to FEMA

PDF_32.png 5/3/24 Letter from Senator Rick Scott to FEMA

PDF_32.png 4/29/24 Letter from FEMA to Senator Rick Scott

PDF_32.png 4/23/24 Letter from Senator Rick Scott to FEMA

PDF_32.png 4/16/24 Letter from Senator Rick Scott to FEMA

PDF_32.png 4/19/24 Letter from FEMA to Lee County

PDF_32.png 4/11/24 Letter from Lee County & Municipalities to FEMA

PDF_32.png 4/8/24 Letter from FEMA to Lee County

PDF_32.png 4/5/24 Letter from Lee County & Municipalities to FEMA

PDF_32.png Helpful Links and Resources


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