Miami’s city attorney said Monday that the city has raised its benchmark for determining substantial damage of flooded properties.
Erik Johnson made the announcement at Monday’s 1 p.m. press conference, indicating that the change has been approved by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Jerry Ruse, the city’s floodplain administrator, said that changing the benchmark will eliminate the question of substantial damage from approximately 80 percent of property owners.
Ruse said people who received less than 3 feet of water o n their property, or more than 5 feet of water, know where they stand.
Those who received less than 3 feet will be issued permits and can rebuild or renovate their properties where they are.
Those who received more than five feet of water will be denied a permit.
Property owners will have an opportunity to appeal the denials, first to the city engineer's office, then to the city's board of variance and, lastly, to a court of law.
“It is going to be a tough row to hoe,” Johnson said in a press conference held last week. “For everyone involved … But, if we allow a certain property to slide, we are not adhering to our floodplain regulations which are promulgated by FEMA, adopted by the state and our local permitting officials.”
Johnson said the enforcement will be painful and there are going to be people who will be unhappy.
Property owners who want to continue business or residence within property deemed to be substantially damaged will have to substantially improve their properties to a level of compliance.
According to FEMA, all structures within the floodplain that are determined to be substantially damaged must be elevated to or above the level of the base flood elevation and meet other applicable program requirements.
County officials, when contacted Monday afternoon, were unaware of the city’s announcement to increase the benchmark.
Commission chairman Russell Earls did not indicate whether or not the county will follow suit with a change in its benchmark.
County officials did agree on Monday that the county floodplain office will join the City of Miami in waiving its permitting fees for flood-related construction. All fees collected thus far will be returned to the applicants.