Collier Commissioners: FEMA requirements could hurt construction in Golden Gate Estates

Video from NBC-2

— Most Golden Gate Estates residents don't know about the biggest issue facing them, according to Collier County District 5 commission candidate Tim Nance.

The issue, he said, is a Federal Emergency Management Agency's requirement that a property owner must compensate for the volume loss of water when building on land. That, combined with changing flood area designations, could cripple the building industry and ultimately the economy. The revelation led a couple of current commissioners to suggest a few conspiracy theories about FEMA's intentions.

"This has an impact on construction and future growth," Nance said. "There is a tremendous amount at stake. It's very serious."

Collier County staff informed commissioners that it will send a letter to FEMA about the issues it sees with the organization's interpretation and possible solutions. The news came as commissioners this week agreed to send a letter to its legislative delegation to help find a solution to the problem.

Collier County Growth Management Administrator Nick Casalanguida compares the county to a bathtub, with everything from houses to buildings to roads as pebbles going into the bathtub.

"If you put pebbles into the bathtub, the water rises," he said.

Casalanguida said while he believes that FEMA does not mean there can be "anything going into the bathtub," how it will be applied is up in the air.

But commissioners were more blunt when expressing their concerns about the issue this week. Commission Chairman Fred Coyle expressed frustration over the process and said FEMA's intent is to drive people out of coastal and low-lying areas.

"They don't want us living here. It is largely a budgetary issue for them because they don't want to pay for damage to homes and are continually built in flood-prone areas," he said.

Still, Coyle was not optimistic that the legislative delegation would help the county.

"Those who don't live in flood-prone areas outnumber those of us who do," he said. "Those people don't want to see their insurance premiums go up."

But Commissioner Tom Henning worried that something worse was going on.

"Is the federal government saying that Collier County is under a building moratorium?" he asked.

That, too, is the concern of Michael Ramsey, vice president of the Golden Gate Estates Area Civic Association and an ecological consultant. He came before the commissioners this week concerned about the effects of FEMA's decisions.

"This volume mitigation will have serious consequences on economic development," he said. "We would like to being together more people in the community because we think this is not just a single issue. It's not just FEMA. And this will not only effect raw property, it will effect existing structures. If you want to do a 50 percent of more remodel, everything will have to come up to the new code."

Ramsey pointed out that those properties in Golden Gate Estates that have a certain designation, X or X500, are the only ones that can compensate for the extra water. He said that if no compensation is allowed on individual lots in the rural estates, no construction will be allowed.

But Casalanguida said Collier County does not have a moratorium on construction and said single family homes and commercial properties are still being permitted.

"We're unique, but we're not unique countrywide," he said.

All of the county's flood maps have been updated, but the maps in two of the basins — those that run have Naples Bay through the main Golden Gate canal, have been updated using more recent data, said Casalanguida.

The county hopes to have the other 10 basins updated within the next 18 months, he said. Collier County flood zone map project manager Robert Wiley said drafts for some of the basins are ready to go to FEMA for approval, but Casalanguida said the county will wait for direction from FEMA on whether to submit the few basins or wait until the remaining 10 are done.

Casalanguida said the county has been told to "follow the code," but that is sometimes ambiguous.

"This is a nebulous agency we're trying to get good answers from," he said. "I want to have that problem statement to send to FEMA before we spend more money. When I move forward without that, I chase my tail."

In addition Casalanguida said this is a federal problem that the county is forced to manage locally, and local government has accountability locally. He said the county is doing its best to deal with the problem, including hiring five people to work specifically on floodplain issues. FEMA is not providing the county with money to redo the maps or correct the problems.

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