Fort Myers Beach residents and business owners fear rebuilding after Hurricane Ian

A month after Hurricane Ian, Chase Hussey and Erica Ratz worry that Fort Myers Beach will never be the same.

Before rebuilding their Fort Myers Beach home and business, they said the community must be rebuilt.

Hussey and Ratz’s one-story home in Palm Isles, two miles from the beach, was nearly eight feet under water. Their three businesses that operated in Fort Myers Beach – West Coast Pressure Cleaning, Paradise Sailing and Ranalli Parasail – are closed until further notice.

“As much as we want to go out there and fly parasails in the sky, there are things to do and we need to help rebuild the community before we do that,” Hussey said.

Ian damaged or destroyed most of Hussey’s parasailing boats, but managed to get one into the water two days after the storm. That’s when the Coast Guard reached out to help with search and rescue.

“We had the captains and the people,” Hussey said. “For a while we were getting [residents] to and from Fort Myers Beach. Hussey, 36, said he also transported search and rescue teams to places like Matlacha and Pine Island.

“[Since] the day after the hurricane, when everyone woke up and started looking in their garages and realized their vehicles were done and their homes were toast, we were all in sorting mode,” he said.

Hussey, Ratz and Ratz’s 14-year-old daughter have been living in a trailer parked in their driveway for weeks. However, they help their neighbors, customers, employees and anyone else who needs it with cleaning and repairs.

Hussey said the worst part is assessing the damage after the storm. “Opening the garage was probably the most helpless feeling I’ve ever had in my life because everything we had to help ourselves or anyone else was gone,” he said.

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Much of Chase Hussey and Erika Ratz’s prep time was spent removing their parasailing cabins from the beach and bringing them home to secure them so they couldn’t cause damage to neighboring houses.

Realizing that their power tools, vehicles and fuel were ruined, the couple had to turn to hand tools and brooms. “I was never interested in his tools until the other day,” Ratz said, recounting that it took four hours to take a door off its hinges with a screwdriver.

Ratz, 35, fears Fort Myers Beach will never be the same. “I just don’t want it to turn into Fort Lauderdale or Miami,” she said. “I want Fort Myers Beach to stay the same. As much as we want that, we know deep down that it might not be possible.”

Hussey shares the same sentiments. “It’s a shame. It’s sad. But it’s never going to be what it was. The hard-frame houses and the homes of the 40s, 50s and 60s aren’t there anymore,” he said.

Joe Orlandini, a realtor and developer in Fort Myers Beach, believes there could be a lot of change in the city once new homes are built.

“We see a demand for people who want to come here. People who want to buy believe that many new houses will appear, which will give a different value and increased demand for value to the area.

Joe Orlandini, Fort Myers Beach Realtor

He said some people who lost their homes may decide to leave because of the elevation requirements when they rebuild. “

A lot of these people are retirees … it’s a lot of work for them to deal with building a new house,” he said. “They like the old days, [and] they don’t want to accumulate in the air.

Orlandini said residents who must rebuild will face other challenges, such as the 50 percent rule. According to the City of Fort Myers Beach website, “The 50% Rule is a National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) regulation that prohibits improvements to a structure in excess of 50% of its market value unless the entire structure is brought into full compliance with current flood regulations.”

These regulations may vary depending on which flood zone the home is located in. For Fort Myers Beach residents, this can mean elevating the home anywhere from 11-19 feet.

“You’re elevating your house out of the flood zone, and that becomes the key component of getting off the grid of the 50 percent rule,” Orlandini said. However, if the homeowner does not need more than 50% improvements, the home can remain a ground lot.

There is a downside to saving older homes. According to Orlandini, we may be facing an insurance crisis.

“If you have five new houses but you have 30 old houses, those old houses become a risk to the new houses,” he said. “But if you have 30 new houses and five old houses, your risk level becomes much less. The reason we were picking up debris around Fort Myers Beach is because we had a lot of non-conforming buildings.”

Orlandini said the lack of enough skilled engineers and contractors could cause problems in the rebuilding process.

“They’re not cookie-cutter houses and they’re not cookie-cutter permits,” he said. “It’s not like a low-end house in Gateway or Babcock Ranch.”

“We have to put [Fort Myers Beach] quickly back in place … but we have to be careful in what we do,” Orlandini said. “I want the mom and pop culture that we have down here to stay and it’s imperative that we keep that culture and that style and the way we are on this island. That’s why we’re as unique as we are, and we don’t want to lose that.

The United States Census Bureau reported a median household income of $75,919 for Fort Myers Beach for the years 2016-2020. The question remains whether the future Fort Myers Beach will be home only to the wealthy.

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Before the storm, at their Fort Myers Beach parasailing booth, Chase Hussey and Erica Ratz, left, with three of their employees.

Like so many others, Hussey and Ratz said they were unprepared for what Hurricane Ian did to Fort Myers Beach.

“I’m not a meteorologist … but you couldn’t have created a more perfect chain of events to give Fort Myers Beach the worst possible outcome,” Hussey said, referring to the high tide, the new moon and the eyewall over Sanibel.

Before Hussey moved his family into a neighbor’s bunkhouse to wait out the storm, he told them to pack two bags. Ratz said she didn’t understand what Hussey meant when he told her to pack her valuables.

“I was like, ‘Okay. I’ll need deodorant, a toothbrush, an extra pair of shoes and clothes, and a phone charger. You don’t think [grab] baby pictures. There are things you don’t even think about until time passes and you have those conversations where you’re like, “Oh, no. Where is this?”

Erika Ratz, Fort Myers Beach resident

“We moved on and separated our lives, which was probably the most heartbreaking thing you can do,” Hussey said.

Despite losing everything and not knowing what the future holds for Fort Myers Beach, Ratz said she and Hussey have no plans to give up on their dream and that they will rebuild their business when the time is right.

“In the meantime, we’re trying to figure out what we can do to at least generate some income for ourselves, our family and our employees until we can get back to doing what we love…which is parasailing,” said Hussey.

Whether it’s big developers or current residents and business owners rebuilding, Orlandini said it needs to be done quickly now that beach tourism will be non-existent.

“It’s the key to the city,” he said. “It will affect and excite the back side of the county. Anything off the island, they will feel the waves. If they don’t think they are and don’t care about spending down here and what’s affected, be prepared, the rest of Lee County, you’re going to feel the ripples. It’s coming.”

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