Wind insurance issue still blowing strong
The Island is in a dilemma.
Insurance companies that provide wind insurance policies on Anna Maria Island either want to charge residents outrageous premiums for coverage or do not want to offer any coverage.
Nevertheless, how much can you really blame them? With the average value of a home and property on Anna Maria probably nearing $1 million these days, if a hurricane capable of causing major damage hits the area, the insurance companies and re-insurance companies are going to become bankrupt trying to provide compensation for everyone whose houses are destroyed.
The increasing premiums that the companies are charging have become preposterous, according to some homeowners, and a meeting sponsored by The Islander and Save Anna Maria on May 25 sought solutions to the matter.
Featured guest was state Rep. Bill Galvano, who attempted to offer an amendment to an omnibus insurance bill during the Legislative session to correct the problem - only to have it lose by one vote.
Galvano, a long-time Manatee County resident, said the decision not to pass the amendment is "arbitrary and capricious" and mentioned that after the decision was made, he knew of a couple of legislators who voted against it who had changed their minds on the issue.
The main question at the forum involved how the arbitrary number of 1,000 feet from the Gulf of Mexico in Manatee County for coverage by Citizens Property Insurance Corporation, the oft-called "insurer of last resort" in Florida, came into existence for what property can be insured. In Sarasota County, the "line" is drawn near Interstate 75, affording residents from the barrier islands eastward wind coverage at reduced rates.
The history of the matter apparently began in the early 1980s, according to Oswald Trippe Ins. Co. agent Christiaan Huth, whose father, John Huth, formerly owned an Island insurance company. When residents were first trying to get wind and hurricane insurance on the Island, he said, and before changing its name to Citizens, the Florida Windstorm Underwriting Association (FWUA) visited the Island and determined which areas would likely need insurance. Residents insisted then that the entire Island needed to be covered, but that request was denied.
Later, FWUA settled on a coverage area for state assistance measured within 1,000 feet of the Gulf of Mexico. At that time, 1,000 feet was a reasonable distance, but not for the more developed Anna Maria Island of 2006. Today, residents either cannot get their houses insured, or, if they can, the premium likely has increased many fold.
There was also speculation that the people in Sarasota County and the Longboat Key portion of that county had more political clout, their "high-wind zone" area is far more comprehensive.
Last week's meeting drew more than 60 people and raised many questions to the problem that may see many people possibly going "bare" this hurricane season.
"Will we still want to live here with all of this?" asked resident Sharon Jorgenson.
Agent Pat Osborne of Boyd Insurance said that damage sustained during Hurricane Andrew "wiped out all of the State Farm collections from Day 1 of it covering property."
"Then we had all of these other storms, and it wiped out a lot of other companies," Huth chimed in. He said there were more than 65,000 claims made in last year's Hurricane Wilma aftermath alone.
"This situation will yield commercial properties completely valuless on the Island," said resident Randall Stover.
Questions of how to find solutions to the high cost of wind insurance and why all of Anna Maria Island is not included in the "V-zone," or high-velocity wind coverage area, were answered in the discussion as best possible.
In a relentless effort to resolve the matter before June 1 and hurricane season, Galvano sent a letter last week to Kevin McCarty, commissioner of the office of insurance regulation in the Florida Department of Financial Services, asking for immediate stopgap coverage for at-risk property owners on barrier islands and within 2,000 feet of the coastline.
"This problem has reached epidemic proportions," he wrote, "and I cannot express to you in stronger terms the need to create some sort of safety net for those affected by it."
Galvano said at the meeting that he had not yet had a response to his letter, and he had reservations that his request for immediate relief would be addressed.
It's possible, he indicated, that no real solution can come until next year's legislative decision.
To make matters worse for some Islanders, Galvano confirmed that only "habitable" or residential properties qualify for the state-subsidized wind insurance. No commercial business, large or small, is covered by Citizens.
And Galvano said he knows businesses are at risk, but until a task force can be formed, which he also has requested, that problem is not being addressed.
Galvano suggested that residents should continue to write letters to him and the other members of the Manatee County legislative delegation. TheIslander, along with SAM, has started petitions that will be sent to Galvano to demonstrate the importance of this matter to Island residents and anyone can stop by The Islander office to sign up and show support for Galvano's effort.
The billions of dollars of damage done to Florida from Hurricane Charley and the disaster of Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana and the northern Gulf Coast prove why insurance companies do not really want to gamble their money to insure an Island that could be under water in only a matter of hours.
Galvano also mentioned that two members of the minority party called for a special session in the legislature regarding this issue. The chances of this happening are slim, he said, and a decision will likely not come until next year's session.
All we can do now is cross our fingers that we will make it through another year. Time is of the essence, and hurricane season is upon us.