As new flood insurance rates get set to start kicking in throughout Monroe County, the grass-roots insurance advocacy group Fair Insurance Rates for Monroe is branching out to try and attack the problem.
Homeowners and commercial properties here will see stark changes in flood insurance premiums in many cases when renewal times start to roll around now that the 2012 Biggert-Waters Act has implemented.
Several attempts by federal Legislators to delay the implementation of the new law have failed in Congress, and FIRM President and County Commissioner Heather Carruthers says that she expects very little action on the flood insurance front in Washington until the current shutdown fiasco is resolved.
“Everything is at a standstill for now while they fight about continuing funding in Washington,” said Carruthers.
And while that bodes no good for many property owners in the Keys, that gives FIRM a little breathing room because the group is currently in the midst of a windstorm rate study to try and deflect triple digit increases in that realm for Monroe County property owners.
“We have established a sub-committee that is looking at flood insurance, but its just in a fledgling state, doing more data gathering than anything right now,” said Carruthers.
FIRM is well aware of the devastation the proposed flood insurance premium increases can cause on the Keys, particularly since the real estate market has finally begun to recover.
“We’ve been told by local Realtors that the new flood premiums could make ground-level homes in the Keys unsellable due to the rate increases unless someone can pay cash and not need the insurance,” she said.
Sue Cherrybon, an agent with Johnson’s Insurance on Big Pine, said that homes built before Jan. 1, 1975 may immediately feel the brunt of the increases as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which oversees the National Flood Insurance Program phases out or eliminates federal subsidies for those homes and commercial buildings.
Carruthers says everyone will see at least a six percent increase, even those homes built after that date.
“A lot also depends on where the house is located, what the flood zone is, and how its used,” she said.
Cherrybon says that most post-FIRM homes are already paying an actuarial rate and should see little change.
“But pre-FIRM homes that are not the primary residence, are an established rental unit, or commercial properties will see at least a 25 percent increase each year until FEMA has what they think is an actuarially sound rate,” said Cherrybon.
Many of the new rates will kick in if the property is sold, she added. “When the property sells, all of the previous subsidies are removed. If the house is below base flood elevation, buyers are going to see a drastic increase in flood premiums.”
The new rates may also kick in if the flood policy lapses for any reason, or if FEMA decides that the property has a repetitive loss history and cancels flood insurance.
“One of the problems with flood insurance, just like with windstorm, is that Monroe County already pays so much higher rates than other areas,” said Carruthers.
She said FIRM’s initial push is going to be to allow residential units to mitigate flood risk by more flood-proofing.
“You can lower flood rates on a commercial property by mitigating for flood damage, but you can’t do that with residential properties,” said Carruthers. “We want to lobby our representatives to have FEMA allow flood-proofing mitigation credits just like we have with windstorm with shutters and strengthened building codes.”
“FIRM is just stretched to thin right now with the wind rates study to be able to devote the necessary time it will take to fight this. But we must. Our residents can’t stand a hit like this on insurance. We’ve heard of cases where flood premiums would rise to the level of a monthly mortgage. Our people can’t afford that,” she said.
Those seeing further information or who want to give information on flood insurance scenarios to FIRM can do so at the group’s website, FIRM.org.
The largest federal agency on Big Pine Key is down to a staff of three for as long as the US government shut down continues.
According to National Key Deer Refuge Manager Nancy Finley, the government shutdown has left the refuge with just one full-time law enforcement agent, one law enforcement agent that splits time between here and the other three refuge complexes in the Keys, and herself as the only working staff.
“We got a memo from our superiors that detailed exempt personnel from the shut down, and I’m it along with two law enforcement personnel,” said Finley.
Three of the five worst canals for water quality in Monroe County are located on Big Pine Key and all are the top candidates in their respective categories for a pilot project designed to change that status.
The Monroe Board of County Commissioners has agreed to proceed with a pilot project to clear up poor water quality in residential canals, the next step in an overall program to enhance near shore water quality. The first step was the development of county-wide central wastewater systems. The last of those, the Cudjoe Regional, is already under construction.
Scientists have reported for more than a decade that the coral reef that borders the Keys has been deteriorating, partly due to increasing water temperatures and partly due to pollutants making their way to the reef.
The reef is called by many the economic lifeblood of the Keys.
The wastewater projects are supposed to trap pollutants that before might leach into near shore waters from faulty septic systems. The canal restoration projects are designed to improve water quality in the canals, canals which eventually feed into the near shore waters. And then eventually find a way to the reef tract.
The Florida Keys Mosquito Control Board has decided that it doesn’t want to spend $8,000 now for a temporary permit to spray adulticide on Big Pine Key to kill mosquitoes.
That permit would have allowed the district to fire up the spray trucks again on Big Pine Key after an absence of several months.
It appears as though there is to be no Legislative fix this year for the pending drastic increases in flood insurance for some coastal properties.
The federal spending bill currently working its way through the process does not contain language that would delay the pending increase authorized by the Biggert-Waters Act of 2012.
That Act was meant to make the National Flood Insurance Program actuarially sound, according to official NFIP statements, but has had the effect of threatening flood insurance increase, drastic ones, on hundreds of thousands of coastal homes.
Flood insurance is a requirement for a federally backed mortgage. All of Monroe County is in a federal flood plain.
But the reality of the pending increases might not be as dark as once thought, says Sue Cherrybon, agent for Johnson’s Insurance on Big Pine Key.
“The biggest impact will be to homes built prior to January 1, 1975,” she said.
The Sir Isaac Newton Coalition, a loosely-organized group of property owners in the Cudjoe Regional Wastewater System service area Thursday morning was expected to file legal action against the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority and Monroe County over the two agency’s handling of the sewer collection system.
Walt Drabinski, owner of Pirate Wellness on Cudoe Key and an independent energy consultant with Vantage Consulting, said the action has three immediate goals.
Monroe County officials continue to look at suggestions to increase the size of the Cudjoe Regional Wastewater System.
This time, they were pitched the idea of adding exclusive resort Little Palm Island to the mix.
According to County Engineer Kevin Wilson, adding Little Palm to the central collection system should be cost neutral.
Monroe County officials decided last week that the era of the all-volunteer fire station in the Keys is going to have to come permanently to a close.
The Board of County Commissioners approved a $475,000 expenditure in the coming fiscal year to place paid firefighting staff at the Sugarloaf Fire Station.
Other than a few months last year, Station 10 has been an all-volunteer force throughout its history.
County Fire Chief Jim Callahan said he recognized potential issues at the station last year when he tried, only partially successfully, to install a paid force at the facility.
He said that the volunteer pool has begun to shrink throughout the island chain and that Sugarloaf could no longer meet reasonable response times.
Then came the annual insurance hazard rating inspection and officials expected this year’s rating to come in at a 10, with one the best. As a result of that possible rating, homeowner’s insurance premiums for those properties covered by Sugarloaf could have “doubled, tripled, maybe even get canceled,” said Callahan.
Due to the station’s label as all-volunteer, the rating didn’t take into account the proximity of Big Coppitt at mile marker 11 and Cudjoe at mile marker 21, said fire board member Kevin Gerard.
The new wastewater collection system for the Cudjoe Regional area will span several bridges along US 1 before its completion in what is expected to be just over two years.
But where the pipes run across those water channels may change as the project progresses.
Though it may be a year or more until property owners inside the Cudjoe Regional Wastewater System service area will need to even consider having to hook up their homes to a pipe in the street,the time to start streamlining that process is now.
So says County Mayor George Nuegent, whose District Two seat encompasses all of what will be the Cudjoe Regional from Lower Sugarloaf Key to Big Pine Key.
The county currently has building department offices in Key West, Marathon and Key Largo. For folks on Big Pine, that means a drive of anywhere from 24 miles to 30 miles to apply for what may be a simple over the counter permit.
Homeowners will have to have a plumbing permit from the county to hook their house drain into the sewer mains, or into the grinder pump if they’re on that system. That permit right now is priced at $70. For those who need a separate electrical power supply for the 240-volt, 30-amp exterior service to run the grinder pump, that permit is priced right now at $150.
But people will have to lose the better part of a day to drive from almost anywhere in the Cudjoe Regional service area to a building department office to apply for that permit, wait until it makes the rounds inside the office, if it can be done in one day,and then return to display the permit before any work can start.
Of course, the county’s plumbing permit can’t be obtained until the homeowner has received a septic tank abandonment permit from the Monroe County Health Department Environmental Services section, at a cost expected to be about $90.
“When streets start coming up for hook ins, there are going to be a lot of people at the building counter trying to get the permits and get started,” said Neugent. “To ask them to drive for a half hour or more in any direction and then wait, maybe, is asking them to devote a lot of time.”