FEMA town hall in Bonita Springs exposes frustration after Hurricane Irma
Southwest Florida communities reflect on their needs after Hurricane Irma. Katie Klann/Naples Daily News
Hundreds of Bonita Springs residents filled the First Presbyterian Church sanctuary on Friday to learn how to get help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
When Asela Regis, who owns a house on Chapman Avenue, took her turn at the microphone during the town hall, which the city organized, she wondered whether she would ever go home again.
Her neighborhood has flooded twice in September. The first time, a weekend of heavy rain pushed the Imperial River over its banks. It happened again a couple weeks later after Hurricane Irma made landfall in Southwest Florida.
She's afraid she has lost everything. She asked whether the city has a plan.
"I pay my taxes, and I expect that when we flood that we have drainage, proper drainage," Regis said. "I know that it's an expensive project, but it has to be done — elsewise, condemn the area."
The residential streets east of Imperial Parkway and north of Bonita Beach Road were impassable after Hurricane Irma.
People who wanted to gather belongings from their flooded homes waded in water that reached beyond their waists.
As the water recedes, new challenges emerge. Walls have to be gutted. Furniture has to be thrown out. Trees have to be cut down.
With FEMA in town, the residents can apply for disaster assistance, which opens up federal grants and loans that can make up for gaps in insurance.
But Regis and others at the town hall questioned whether those neighborhoods — Quinn and Dean streets, Chapman, Saunders, McKenna and Pawley avenues — are habitable.
Mayor Peter Simmons said they were "preaching to the choir" when speaking up about flooding in Bonita Springs.
"You are absolutely positively appealing to every instinct that I have," Simmons said. "I absolutely have been on those streets. I have seen what's happened."
Simmons said the county and city have been working to conserve open land that can retain water and slow the spread of sheet flow, which is when inland stormwater makes its way to the coast.
"This issue is not going to be solved by buzz-sawing and clear cutting ... our environmental wetlands on the east end of town," Simmons said.
Flooding concerns are not new in Bonita Springs. Back in 1995, the same area near the Imperial River was the site of two floods that kept some people in public shelters for months.
Residents who have spent less than ten years there have told The Banner they knew flooding was a possibility but did not imagine it could be this catastrophic.
Regis said she bought her house on Chapman Avenue about three years ago and had never experienced such flooding.
"Human beings should not have to live under those circumstances. I am homeless," Regis said. "I am mad that I have lost my home to this flood. It's unnecessary. It shouldn't have to be. There should be proper drainage."
To see the FEMA town hall: cityofbonitasprings.org/22914/fema-town-hall-meeting-september-22nd-2017/
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