Florida Wildlife Federation: Oppose national catastrophic fund

Nov 27, 2011

The following article was published on November 27, 2011 in the Daytona Beach News-Journal:

State-backed insurance plan encourages coastal development

By Manley Fuller

Despite there being 19 named storms this year, including Hurricane Irene which estimates suggest caused $10 billion to $15 billion in damages, Florida was once again spared this hurricane season. Maybe it’s a change in the weather patterns or just good luck, but either way we now have another opportunity to make the necessary changes to reduce the risk to Florida taxpayers while providing greater protection to Florida’s natural storm buffers, including barrier islands and flood plains.

Following Hurricane Irene, many news sources raised the issue of creating a national disaster insurance program. However, this plan is strongly opposed by the Florida Wildlife Federation, as well as other groups we rarely agree with on political issues. From our perspective, such a fund would only encourage further coastal development in the most hazardous areas of East and Gulf coastal states, exposing taxpayers to tremendous liability. By providing private parties with public subsidies, offering insurance coverage anywhere someone chooses to build, we risk destroying coastal wetlands, dunes, and other natural defenses to storm surge. These buffers help reduce inland storm damage, as well as provide important fish and wildlife habitats.

In Florida, we know far too well the financial and environmental risks associated with government-run insurance programs that incentivize high-risk development. Every day, more policies are written by Citizens Property Insurance Corp., which transfers much of that risk to Florida homeowners, renters, business owners, churches and charities who will be required to pay the claims from storm damage — whether they are Citizens policyholders or not. Additional risk is transferred to those same Floridians, through the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund. Creating a national program will surely create the same problem we have in Florida, but this time the problem will adversely affect all Americans, as well as the fish and wildlife habitats along our nation’s coastlines.

The 2012 state legislative session is just weeks away, beginning on Jan. 10. For the past four years, we have been voicing our concern over the issues associated with Citizens and the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund, working in conjunction with various charitable and business organizations throughout the state who also realize the consequences we all will face if changes are not implemented. The Florida Legislature has put incremental changes into effect over the years. But putting our state on a glide path to stability, by reforming state policies so they no longer encourage development in areas seaward of the Florida coastal construction line, or within the coastal barrier resources system, should be one of the state’s top priorities this session.

In early October, the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee expressed interest in revisiting legislation that would shrink the Citizens Property Insurance Corp. Legislative leaders have expressed their commitment to work on a proposal for this year, including Senate Banking and Insurance Chairman Garrett Richter, R-Naples; Senate President-designate Don Gaetz, R-Destin; and Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, all of whom have been integral in the positive reform of Citizens and the “cat fund” over the years.

In our opinion, people who choose to develop or redevelop in predictably high-risk areas should do so on their own dime, instead of relying on subsidies by the public, state or federal government. Citizens’ chief financial officer has predicted the insurer should reach 1.6 million policies by the end of 2011. Maybe this session, all of our elected officials will realize that continuing to “help” some Floridians by offering an unfunded insurance subsidy will ultimately place Florida’s solvency at risk, and lead to the destruction of critical coastal habitats which help protect Florida’s environment from storms and rising tides.

Find this article here:  http://www.news-journalonline.com/opinion/editorials/guest-columns/2011/11/27/state-backed-insurance-plan-encourages-coastal-development.html