Estero’s response to FEMA’s Hurricane Ian compliance issue

Reporter: Olivia Jean
Published: Updated:

We are learning what FEMA said went wrong with the Village of Estero and what the response was.

WINK News went to the meeting Wednesday morning.

FEMA said Estero had 62 properties that weren’t permitted correctly. So, officials spent their time going to each home to write down everything FEMA required in hopes of saving the village’s flood insurance discount.

The paperwork is important. The stakes are high because if it doesn’t work, your flood insurance will go up.

Confusion was apparent, and clarification was needed.

Estero Mayor Jon McLain said vagueness in FEMA’s policy caused massive confusion. He spoke with the mayors from the area.

“With our contacts, we didn’t get the same information, so it was flexible. We wanted a 1234 plan. I think we’ve got more clarity on it,” McLain said.

Mayors talked with mayors, managers talked with managers and officials talked with officials. Everyone talked with each other and with FEMA to figure out how to come out of this mess.

WINK News Reporter Olivia Jean sat down with Estero Village Manager , Steve Sarkozy, to discuss the community rating system, disaster relief and recovery efforts, and flood risk mitigation. 

A detailed PowerPoint presentation during the council meeting on Wednesday explained the interactions they had with FEMA ahead of June 10. Sarkozy did the presentation and further explained the interactions with us.

“We’ve made it clear that we think that FEMA really didn’t understand what we’ve been doing, and now they have a better understanding,” Steve Sarkozy, the Estero Village Manager, said.

FEMA decided that Uninccorpatred Lee County, Fort Myers Beach, Cape Coral, Bonita Beach and, of course, Estero would lose their discount.

“What we’re really trying to do is defend our response under the Community Rating System to protect the 20% discount that our residents get,” Sarkozy said.

He explained the batch system which was used to submit information to FEMA.

“Rather than let things pile up, we gave them batches. And we worked on selected properties in a collaborative way, so that when we submitted the materials, we believed it was complete. They would then get back to us at the next meeting to update the prior meetings batch,” Sarkozy said.

Estero got feedback from FEMA about this system and then got all materials in on June 7. Several Estero workers worked weekends and overtime to meet the deadline. So, they are hoping for a good response at the beginning of next month.

“We’d be terribly disappointed, but it’s their call. And we have tried to outline where the amount of expenditures that the village has made to protect our flood hazard risk. We think far exceeds what FEMA has paid,” Sarkozy said.

Something you probably didn’t know: The village bought 144 acres of land for $41 million dollars. It is land that won’t be built on and is referred to as “preserved.” This land is a high flooding hazard and was bought to protect people.

“Steve and the staff had done just an excellent, excellent job,” McLain said.

It was all hands on deck to get loads of information to FEMA, but these healthy conversations may lead to change.

“We’ve been in conversations with them about how we think they can improve their manual, how we can improve our effort,” Sarkozy said.

FEMA did ask if the village asked or advised the community to get permits, and it turns out that Estero, on multiple occasions after Ian, held community events doing exactly that. FEMA has that paperwork.

FEMA is expected to make a decision by July 10 if the Village of Estero gets keep their flood insurance discount.

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