Hurricanes, Development, and Our Insurance Crisis

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Florida is facing an insurance crisis. For decades, state and local governments have permitted and continue to permit inappropriate development in hurricane-prone areas. When approving new developments in this area, little attention seems to be paid to the general problems associated with land-impact hurricanes.

It is currently estimated that Hurricane Ian will cause $100 billion in total damage, the largest hurricane damage in Florida history. Florida already has the highest property insurance rates in the nation. However, with an insurance crisis looming on the horizon, an obvious solution to the problem is not even being considered: halt density growth in flood-prone areas. The mechanism is there to guide growth in these areas, but the political will is not.

It’s almost ridiculous that Florida political leaders should expect the rest of the nation to bail us out of problems created by decades of improper coastal development. Florida ranks first in hurricane events and is the nation’s most vulnerable state to the devastating effects of coastal storms. Population growth and continued coastal development over the past few decades have left residents extremely vulnerable to the devastating effects of hurricanes.

Developing industry officials will certainly suggest that one solution to the current insurance problem is to work our way out of it, citing statistics that suggest that as development develops, more will pay into the insurance pool and interest rates will stabilize or even fall. Such convoluted logic is likely to appeal to most of our lawmakers, so the real issue of increasing density in hurricane evacuation zones does not need serious consideration.

As more people move to Southwest Florida, the risk of extensive loss of life and property damage will increase. It is vital that residents understand the dangers of living in a hurricane-prone area. There are currently no standards for hurricane clearance times for new or existing developments. Legislation must be passed that requires disclosure of hurricane evacuation times when prospective buyers purchase residential properties. Prospective buyers and renters have a right to know and should be informed as to whether or not it is safe to vacate a property they intend to buy or rent.

Florida is known for its unique and valuable wetlands, wildlife habitats, beaches and marine resources, but our weak land development regulations underpin continued development in flood-prone coastal and environmentally sensitive areas. Local governments routinely authorize construction seaward of established coastal control lines where construction is not to take place.

It remains to be seen whether the next legislative session will result in meaningful measures to limit growth in hurricane-prone areas. Florida policymakers need to recognize that there is such a thing as a high-risk area on the coast and it is not in our long-term interest to continue building there.

Glenn Compton is Chairman of ManaSota 88, a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting the environment in Manatee and Sarasota counties for over 30 years.