Limit amnesty for enclosed Florida Keys stilt homes

Jul 30, 2009

Monroe County wants forgiveness from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. But what has it done to deserve it? Not enough.

To stay in the National Flood Insurance Program, Monroe wants FEMA to grant amnesty to some Keys owners whose stilt homes have first-floor enclosures.

Most enclosures simply shouldn’t be there. They were banned in new home construction when the county enrolled in the flood insurance program way back in 1974.Yet that didn’t stop the county from permitting some and, in other cases, turning a blind eye.

A FEMA crack-down and the threat of losing federally subsidized flood insurance pushed the county into beginning an inspection program in 2002, which could force removal of such structures.

The downstairs structures built since 1974 are illegal, no matter how much you squint your eyes to read the county’s fine print. One Category 4 or 5 hurricane and these units will crumble. The resulting debris will turn into hundreds of lethal weapons propelled by storm surges and high winds, battering all in their path.

Under the county’s proposal, amnesty would be given to all downstairs enclosures — except those used for rentals — built before 2002. Homeowners would have to earn amnesty with an annual special-use permit that included a fee for a debris cleanup fund. Rental enclosures rightly would go.

FEMA should require more before considering amnesty. Is the county doing all it can to prevent new first floors being built? Has it ensured removal of rickety construction?

Only those qualifying structures with some storm resistance should be granted amnesty. The rest must go — before the next Big One makes landfall.