Restaurateur Antonio Gallo has waited 14 months for what once took days — approval of a flood claim for his South Beach business after a heavy rainstorm.
In October 2016 a flash storm rumbled over Miami Beach and flooded businesses in Sunset Harbour, which sits a few feet below the sidewalk and roadway because the city raised the street as part of its preparation for rising tides due to sea level rise. The neighborhood, among the lowest-lying in the city, has also been outfitted with several electric anti-flooding pumps. But only one was working that night.
Several inches of rain overwhelmed the system, and water flowed into Gallo’s restaurant, Sardinia Enoteca Restaurant. Woodwork, chairs, wine racks and other pieces of furniture were damaged. Gallo was later shocked when he was informed his business was considered a basement by an insurance adjuster. He was told the damage was not covered by his policy under the FEMA-managed National Flood Insurance Program.
City officials quickly pushed back and talked to FEMA about the basement designation. Residents across the city grew concerned about the citywide $500 million stormwater infrastructure program because it calls for more streets to be raised, albeit not as much as the low-lying roads in Sunset Harbour. Many homeowners in Mid-Beach pointed to Gallo’s situation while sharing their skepticism of an anticipated $100 million project to raise roads and install pumps.
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Now, after an appeal and more than a year of waiting, Gallo will receive his claim. He shared the news with city officials this week. He declined to share the amount with the Miami Herald, but he said he was satisfied with the outcome.
“I think for FEMA, this is something new,” he said on Saturday.
Gallo said he was pleased with the city’s efforts since the claim was denied. City Hall informed FEMA about the stormwater program and installed backup generators in Sunset Harbour to deal with a gaping flaw in the drainage system that led to flooding during a severe storm in August.
Commenting on the future of the city’s anti-flooding efforts in the face of rising seas amid climate change, Gallo emphasized the need for private property owners and city bureaucrats to communicate so that residents are comfortable with the significant infrastructure changes that will happen.
“We need to work together,” he said. “At the beginning there was a lot of misunderstanding.”
In an email to commissioners, City Manager Jimmy Morales noted his staff’s efforts to help FEMA understand the city’s stormwater work.
“Our staff worked hard with FEMA and their insurance company to educate them on the city’s storm water initiatives and proved to them that these spaces were not basements and therefore still qualified for flood coverage,” Morales wrote. “This will be very helpful moving forward. We will certainly educate the public about this since the initial denial had created some concern in the community.”