Florida Wildlife Federation: Subsidizing coastal development is risky to taxpayers, habitat
Nov 22, 2011
The following article was published in the Fort Myers News-Press on November 22, 2011:
Guest Opinion: Subsidizing coastal development is risky to taxpayers, habitat
Despite there being 19 named storms this year, including Hurricane Irene which estimates suggest caused $10 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 the state-run insurer 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 questioned the need to create a national disaster insurance program. However, this plan is strongly opposed by the Florida Wildlife Federation as well as other groups whom we rarely agree with on political issues. 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, business owners, churches and charities — whether they are Citizens policyholders or not. Additional risk is transferred 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 our 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.
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 public subsidies by the public, state or federal government. With Citizens’ chief financial officer suggesting 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 today, will ultimately place Florida’s solvency at risk and lead to the destruction of critical coastal habitats that help protect Florida from storms and rising tides.
Manley Fuller is president of the Florida Wildlife Federation.