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Hurricane recovery funds awarded for Cape cleanup

July 12, 2019
Cape Coral Daily Breeze

The city of Cape Coral got some good news Thursday: it will receive more than $5.6 million in FEMA hurricane recovery funds to help offset some of the $18 million-plus it spent cleaning up in the wake of Hurricane Irma.

The storm which reached Category 5 status at its peak, made its second Florida landfall on Marco Island on Sept. 10, 2017 as a Category 3 hurricane after thousands of Southwest Floridians fled or crowded into hurricane shelters.

Lee County was hit hard by 100-plus mph winds and torrential rains that led to flooding, particularly in and around Lehigh and days-long power outages across the region.

The storm literally sucked water out of Cape canals, resulting in damage to hundreds of seawalls.

And everywhere -- everywhere -- there was storm debris by the tons.

According to numbers provided to The Breeze in September 2018, countywide, commercial loss due to Irma totaled $102.4 million, residential loss totaled $725.9 million with another $4.4 million in losses that fell in neither category.

Irma left behind 2,704,830 cubic yards of debris in unincorporated Lee County and Estero, with removal costs nearing $40 million.

The Small Business Administration approved nearly 3,000 loans totaling about $117.7 million, as well as 75 Emergency Bridge Loans totaling $3.1 million.

Cape Coral claims to FEMA totalled $18.1 million with about $126,000 received so far.

The $5.6 million announced Thursday is likely "several months from now" away with another $107,000 obligated but also not yet received.

The Cape Coral taxpayers, meanwhile, paid the bill to remove and dispose of an estimated 318,000 cubic yards of vegetative debris from city rights-of-way as well as 164,800 cubic yards from its canals. Construction and demolition added another 22,000 cubic yards.

Thursday's announced grant, part of a $13 million disbursement to Lee County communities, will help.

A bit.

When the money finally gets here.

In addition to the announced $5,632,525 Cape Coral grant, the city of Fort Myers has been awarded $4,266,803 for Hurricane Irma recovery. The city of Bonita Springs will receive $3,058,364.

FEMA previously awarded a total of $5 million in Hurricane Irma Recovery Funds to the cities of Sanibel, Fort Myers and Bonita Springs as well as $4 million to Lee Health.

Collier County received $34.4 million earlier this year.

Lee County requested $40 million and expects a first allotment of $5 million. It is still waiting.

A couple of things.

We all know that "government money," i.e. grants, comes from public pockets one way or another.

Still, it's nice to get some of it back, especially in the wake of a costly catastrophe.

Now that the Cape is set for some reimbursement, that's something for our city officials, administrative and elected alike, to consider as they move into the budget process this summer.

Despite strong increases in taxable valuation, the city chose not to reduce its property tax rate last year as the FEMA money was still out with actual reimbursement being anyone's guess.

Council talked about decreasing the tax rate last summer but decided not to gamble on whether the funds would be in hand this fiscal year.

This week's reimbursement news has come in near the wire - but in advance of the city manager's proposed budget for next.

We -- and no doubt taxpayers who have seen their tax levy climb with higher values each of the last few years -- await this year's tax rate discussions with bated breath.

- Breeze editorial



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