Rooney talks hurricane response, flood insurance, Lake O

Lee Herald Favicon 16Congressman Francis Rooney addressed the issues facing Southwest Florida in the wake of Hurricane Irma while speaking to a gathering of Republican supporters Thursday

Debris removal has been an unexpectedly difficult problem after the storm, with the hurricane leaving around three million cubic feet of debris in Lee County and four million cubic feet in Collier County. The estimated cost for clean-up in Lee County alone is a staggering $60 million, but the congressman said he has been working with President Trump to secure high rates of FEMA reimbursement for the project.

“President Trump came through on his promise to give us 90 percent reimbursement instead of 80 and I think he is going to come through to continue to extend that,” said Rooney. “We wrote him this week to ask him to give us another 30 days.”

Rooney told the audience that the federal government has appropriated $60 billion to deal with the damage from Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Harvey, which caused catastrophic flooding in Houston. That total doesn’t include the amount the government will spend restoring Puerto Rico, which was devastated by Hurricane Maria last month.

The condition of Lake Okeechobee after the storm has also been a growing concern for Southwest Florida. Rains from Irma have raised the lake’s water level, requiring engineers to release freshwater into delicate estuaries, which can damage water quality downstream along the Caloosahatchee River and into the Gulf of Mexico.

“The lake level now is over 17 feet, and anything over 15 feet is considered at risk of failure,” Rooney said.

The congressman said that he is working with both state and federal politicians to resolve the issue by securing additional funds to repair and update the Herbert Hoover Dike, which surrounds the southern half of the lake. He hopes that the money will help move the projected completion date from 2029 to 2022.

Flood insurance is another issue that has become very relevant after Irma left portions of areas like Bonita Springs and Everglades City under water. Rooney said that county commissions were going to have to address the difficult issue of properties that face flood damage on a regular basis.

“There is going to be a bit of a stronger push to deal with repetitive loss properties,” said Rooney. ”There are properties that may be worth $50,000 that have had half a million dollars worth of insurance plowed into them over the last ten years… Two percent of the claims, 87,000 claims, generate over a quarter of the cost.”

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