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Cape explores seawall assessment

By Staff | Jun 13, 2019

Renee Schihl has lived in the same Cape Coral home for 27 years and says for all that time, she has had issues with her storm drain and seawall.

For the past several weeks, Schihl has addressed her complaints during Cape Coral City Council meetings, asking for the city to repair the damage.

While the city has not done so, her insistence has, perhaps, created an opening for the city to explore a seawall assessment for those who may not have the tens of thousands necessary to fix walls that collapse.

Cape Coral has more than 400 miles of canals. Seawalls are required and currently, maintenance and repairs are the responsibility of the property owners.

As many learned in the wake of Hurricane Irma in 2017, insurance typically doesn not cover seawall damage, which can run as high as $50,000 — or more — for complete replacement.

As far as a citywide assessment is concerned, that is a non-starter considering how many seawalls there are and the cost of having to replace them, officials said, adding it would be cost prohibitive.

City Manager John Szerlag said the city has been analyzing the issue since Irma resulted in the collapse of hundreds of seawalls and millions of dollars in damages, with a stormwater assessment considered for those who live on canals.

The assessment would aid those who meet the criteria of low income, which would be held confidential by the city, Szerlag said.

The city would create a revolving fund and, if someone met the qualifications, the wall would be fixed and the homeowner would then make payments to the city for the repair.

Szerlag said the city is working on that and he would bring the measure to City Council for consideration at a later date.

City Councilmember John Carioscia said he is concerned about the credit of these homeowners and added that, since the proposal is still in the early stages, the city still can come up with a solution.

“They’re going to do a little more homework with this because sometimes they don’t think of everything and neither do we,” Carioscia said. “Sometimes we (staff) are meeting with individual council members to see if they have ideas.”

Just after Irma, Council approved a program to help homeowners with damaged seawalls via the Florida PACE Funding Agency. The measure passed 7-1, with then-Mayor Marni Sawicki opposed to it, citing a fear the potential for predatory lending.

Schihl said her seawall has failed three times. She said the city fixed it the first two times because the damage caused by the dredging too close to her seawall and that the city also said there was damage to the storm drain, which it then never repaired.

“Nobody knows anything about how old the storm drain is. The city took responsibility twice and I think they need to again because they never fixed it properly,” Schihl said.

Public Works Director Paul Klinghan, however, said according to an analysis, the seawall failed because of hydrostatic oversaturated soil pressure in combination with absence of canal water during Hurricane Irma, which was similar to the 300 other seawalls that failed. Consultants said neither the storm drain nor the dredging contributed to the failure.

Szerlag said that the insurance industry could be missing out on an opportunity to cover seawalls.

“We’ll see if our lobbyists to see if insurance companies, upon inspection of a seawall, can determine to see if there could be a rider on a homeowner’s policy. It would be a marvelous idea,” Szerlag said. “I believe the larger insurance companies are missing out on a niche market.”