Miami Herald: Deluge or not, flood insurance a sound investment

Dec 2, 2009

The Miami Herald publised this editorial on December 2, 2009

OUR OPINION: Investing now in flood insurance makes sense

As Realtors like to say, It’s all about location, location, location. In South Florida, sandwiched between the soggy Everglades and the Atlantic Ocean, location is the geography of low lands.

And no matter where you live in this region, if it rains enough, or storms enough during a hurricane, water will rise faster than it can drain — even with the most advanced drainage systems. It isn’t a question of if, but when. Given this reality, having flood insurance for your property should be a given.

It should be, but it’s not. Only mortgaged property located in flood zones and financed with federally backed or secured loans must be covered by flood insurance. In flat South Florida, a matter of an inch or two can determine whether you need to purchase flood insurance, sold only by the federal government. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, which administers the flood insurance program, draws and updates flood-risk maps county by county.

With Miami-Dade County’s recently unveiled new map, some property owners are getting unwelcome notices that they’re now in potential flooding areas for the first time. Residents of Broward County are awaiting completion of its latest map, and some will surely get the same news.

The new maps, improved through laser-based aerial surveys, are drawn using facts such as drainage improvements, actual elevation and past flooding information. But homeowners in some Miami-Dade cities like Sweetwater are upset to suddenly find themselves located in flood-prone areas when they’ve never seen the water rise. They do have one option: Pay for an elevation survey of their property, which might be higher than the neighborhood’s elevation, thus reducing the cost of flood insurance for that property.

It’s an unhappy outcome for these homeowners in that they must shell out more for another insurance policy or elevation survey even as windstorm premiums are on the rise. But it could also be a blessing (albeit an expensive one in the short run) in disguise.

Outside of those living on the narrow coastal ridge along the shoreline, most of us reside on land that once was part of the Everglades. Ditching and diking made the land dry enough for development.

But nature has had a way of reclaiming the swamp periodically, if only temporarily. When that happens the next time, property owners with flood insurance will be glad they made the investment.

A sad reminder of what can happen otherwise is the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when flooding inundated New Orleans, wiping out entire sections of the city. Four years later some sections, particularly the Ninth Ward, remain shells of their former selves.

New Orleans was built over a swamp. So was most of South Florida. That makes flood insurance a sound investment here.