News from Tallahassee for 10/9/15

Statewide sinkhole map nears completion, officials say posted on 8/10/15

by JAMES L. ROSICA | Tribune/Scripps Capital Bureau

TALLAHASSEE — It turns out the best way to predict sinkholes is to find the ones already there.

For two years, a team of sinkhole hunters with the Florida Geological Survey has been scouring the state to create a map of where sinkholes are most likely to form.

They’ve trudged through terrain in 55 of 67 counties so far, using digital elevation maps and aerial photographs to ferret out known sinkholes and infer future ones.

To twist an old saying, where there’s fire, there’s likely going to be more fire. Those additional fires is what the scientists are after.

By this time next year, the crew of 10 geologists and computer mapmakers expect to have the whole state platted to show areas vulnerable to sinkhole formation.

For the Tampa Bay area, nicknamed “sinkhole alley,” such a map could prove invaluable for local officials and others to gird for ground collapses after storms.

Sinkholes, however, aren’t always immediately obvious. They may be hidden in rural areas, surrounded by dense vegetation.

Like a physician diagnosing a patient, “we refer to them as ‘symptoms,’” said geologist Clint Kromhout, the team’s leader.

For example, in their version of a doctor’s bag, geologists use a technology called LiDAR, for light detection and ranging. Laser bursts create a three-dimensional image of a particular area’s surface.

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Florida's largest insurer to ask for rate hikes in 2016 posted on 6/25/15

by AP

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- Florida has dodged hurricanes for the last decade, but the state's largest property insurer says it needs to keep hiking the rates paid by those customers who live along the coast and in heavily populated South Florida.

The board of Citizens Property Insurance voted unanimously Wednesday to raise rates an average of 3.2 percent statewide, although the actual rates paid by homeowners could vary widely depending on where they live. Many inland customers with Citizens, for example, are expected to see a slight decrease.

Citizens officials approved the rate hike without any debate or discussion. State regulators must still sign off on the rate hike, but if it is approved the higher rates would take effect in February 2016.

Nearly half of the state-created insurer's 600,000 customers will actually see slight decreases in their rates according to figures drawn up by Citizens staff.

But those customers who live near the coast could pay an average of 8.6 percent more. Citizens officials say rate hikes are needed for homeowners in Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.

Citizens officials say there are several reasons for the need for higher rates in South Florida. One reason is that Citizens is shrinking in size due to an aggressive push by the insurer to have policyholders switch to privately run companies. That leaves Citizens with customers who are at a higher risk of storm damage.

Another reason cited by Citizens is that there has been a rise in South Florida claims associated with water damage that is not storm-related.

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Officials Urge Citizens Not To Be Complacent During 2015 Hurricane Season posted on 6/1/15


Florida’s Capital region is ready for whatever winds may blow. Predictions of a lighter hurricane season don’t mean residents should ignore taking precautions.

A time of year that Floridians know all too well, Hurricane season 2015 begins on June 1st. County and city officials met Friday to stress that the Tallahassee area is ready for anything that may make landfall.

The Mayor of Tallahassee, Andrew Gillum, cited the recent natural disasters in Oklahoma and the flooding in Texas, in urging Tallahasseeans not to be complacent.

“It certainly is a reminder to us during this particular time as we kick off the start to hurricane season here and across the nation, but here in Tallahassee Florida, that we have to be ever vigilant and to have a plan for ourselves and for our families should we be confronted with a natural disaster.”

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State storm fund disclosures spark debate ahead of Cabinet meeting posted on 4/14/15

by charles elmore | palm beach post

Proponents say the time is right for Cabinet officials to approve a first-ever plan for the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund to buy private reinsurance, but opponents say it’s a better deal for Bermuda financiers than Florida homeowners.

Skeptics questioned terms disclosed less than 24 hours before a Cabinet meeting today they understand to show homeowners will pay $12.60 more on a $2,000 policy this year to save them from the slim risk of paying a storm tax of $14.40.

“It makes no sense whatsoever,” said Jay Neal, CEO of the Fort Lauderdale-based Florida Association for Insurance Reform, whose members include representatives from Florida property insurers. “There’s an overwhelming chance it’s going to Bermuda’s operating profit.”

Part of the deal involves $1 billion in private reinsurance, costing $68 million, that kicks in only after the state storm fund has already paid out $12.5 billion to cover storm losses, a memo to Cabinet members shows. The private coverage has between a 3.5 percent and 4.4 percent chance of being triggered, documents show. If it’s not needed, offshore reinsurers keep the money.

A memo from State Board of Administration executive director Ash Williams to Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater recommends approval.

The memo “recommends seeking to obtain $1 billion of risk-transfer at a rate-on-line not to exceed 6.78 percent and $1.2 billion pre-event debt financing that would maximize the fund’s claims-paying capacity at favorable terms and structure given market conditions,” Williams wrote.

The combined $2.2 billion package would raise residential premiums 0.63 percent, the memo says. Supporters note the effect is blunted by the ending of a 1.3 percent assessment to pay off Cat Fund debt from 2004-5 storms, and the net effect would be a decrease in consumer bills.

Neal called that “disingenuous” because the assessment formally ended Jan. 1 of this year, and the real comparison is costs now with the plan and without it.

After nine storm-free years in Florida, forecasters expect one of the quietest hurricane seasons since the mid-twentieth century in 2015.

That’s no guarantee catastrophe won’t strike, of course, but the question is whether the back-up protection purchased offshore is a good deal financially for Floridians. An alternative: Put the money into the Cat Fund’s surplus as it has traditionally done, so it can grow in storm-free years and remain available to pay claims without having to pay offshore interests.

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Storm season does not stop another 45,000 Citizens offers posted on 4/8/15

by charles elmore | palm beach post

Offers from private insurance companies to take customers from state-run insurer Citizens keep on coming — straight into hurricane season that starts June 1.

That was once rare. Now it’s less so as Florida’s largest property insurer’s rates have climbed high enough after years of increases to make policies more attractive to private companies. Citizens has shrunk to its lowest customer count since its 2002 founding, below 600,000. It once had 1.5 million.

Remember you have the option to refuse an offer, and be sure you get a clear quote comparing much Citizens and the private insurer intend to charge. Don’t be unduly swayed by any 45 percent assessment warnings that may still be kicking around.

Approvals from state regulators don’t necessarily mean all 45,000 offers will be sent, but these have been OKed for June:

• Heritage Property & Casualty Insurance Co. – up to 20,000 personal residential policies and 500 commercial residential policies

• Mount Beacon Insurance Co. – approved to remove up to 25,000 residential policies

» Read more

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