Many residents in Southwest Florida could face a significant increase in flood insurance costs under the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s forthcoming Risk Rating 2.0, and those prices are expected to rise with the sea levels because of climate change.
Even though the biggest change ever in how the National Flood Insurance Program calculates premiums is scheduled to take effect in just over seven months, FEMA and its recent revolving door of leaders haven’t shared those details with Americans.
However, a public service by our USA TODAY Network in partnership with nonprofit First Street Foundation gives the opportunity for the first time to look up your address to see average financial loss due to flood damage that dictates potential insurance costs. (Print readers can type firststreet.org on their browsers to get started.)
A new analysis out today by First Street found there are homeowners who could see their premiums jump by as much as 5,000%. That’s not a typo. Five thousand.
As an example in Southwest Florida, residents living in the McGregor Boulevard corridor in Fort Myers from about Colonial Boulevard to just past Cypress Lake Drive could be among those affected.
Along that four-mile strip of 7,500 residents, the First Street data shows 99.9% of the properties with one to four units have a substantial risk of flooding causing structural damage. Substantial risk is defined as having a minimum 1% annual chance of flood, otherwise known as a 100-year flood risk. And some there could have up to a 99% chance of flooding at least once over the next 30 years, according to First Street.
At the same time, the Lely Resort area, found largely in the 34113 zip code of East Naples, has a comparatively smaller percentage of homes currently in similar straits, with 17% in the 100-year flood zone, the statistics indicate. However, with growth and climatological challenges, that balloons to 38% within 30 years.
What FEMA is trying to do is put more responsibility on those choosing to live in flood zones and then continuing to do so as the ramifications from global heating intensify. The idea is to make sure folks who face the greatest threat pay more of a fair share, which hasn’t been the case in the past, when those in less jeopardy and taxpayers often got stuck with too much of the bill, said Matthew Eby, First Street’s founder and executive director.
“FEMA is trying to compensate for five decades of mispriced insurance,” Eby said.
And in 2017, Congress bailed out the NFIP with $16 billion in debt relief, leaving the ultimate cost of hurricanes Katrina, Sandy, Harvey and Irma on the books of the American taxpayer.
The timeline calls for the historic implementation in October for the program that dates back to 1968. Overall, First Street estimates it will affect more than 5 million existing policies across the country, as well as future ones homeowners choose to purchase.
Charlotte County leads Southwest Florida with 76.5% of its homes in 100-year flood zones, followed by Lee’s 45.8%, Collier’s 30.4%, Sarasota’s 26.3%, Manatee’s 15.7% and Hendry’s 3.9%. Monroe tops the state with 89.1% and expands to 95.3% within 30 years. In our region, the change is limited to increases of up to about two percentage points in that time frame except for Collier’s leap of nearly five to 35%.
Pinellas, Miami-Dade, Charlotte, Lee, Brevard and Sarasota counties also appear in the top 10 nationally for the total value of real estate at risk.
First Street said it quantified the financial impact of flood exposure for each residential property in America in a manner consistent with how FEMA does its assessments.
Its calculations show that there are 1.5 million national properties at risk of flood-induced structural damage and located within FEMA’s Special Flood Hazard Areas, which are mandated to buy flood insurance if owners hold a federally backed mortgage. These properties would see an average rate increase of 3.5 times, to more than $555 a month, the data shows.
The 2.6 million properties currently at risk of flood-induced structural damage and located outside the Special Flood Hazard Areas would require a 4.9 times price increase on average to $195 a month for coverage. Under what’s scheduled, policy holders won’t see that all at once, though, with the maximum increase a year being 18%.
The good news for Margaritaville fans
If all goes well, construction of Southwest Florida’s Margaritaville should begin “June-ish,” developer Tom Torgerson told me.
Based on past data Torgerson has shared, I took a guess with him that summer 2023 is when you could begin “wastin’ away” at the Fort Myers Beach complex, and it turns out I was correct.
“We feel it is a very accurate timeline, and of course, something like a Cat 5 dead-hit hurricane could interrupt that, or something out of our control of that magnitude, but otherwise a pretty solid time estimate,” said Torgerson, CEO of TPI Hospitality.
If you can finally locate that lost shaker of salt, this should give at least a few something to toast this evening or perhaps earlier on this National Margarita Day. It’s 5 o’clock somewhere.
Torgerson said his company has invested more than $52 million so far into the 254-room resort that comes with restaurants, shopping areas and beach access and should reshape what’s traditionally been known as downtown.
At one point, he had hoped to get work initiated by the end of last year after the Second District Court of Appeal in Lakeland had previously rejected a suit to stop the project. But another legal challenge followed that was later dropped.
“June-ish is the soonest we could mobilize to get started with construction. Things like closing out permitting, construction bidding and securing financing just take that much time as well as the court process,” Torgerson said. “We still anticipate a construction start after the end of this year’s season, mostly likely in June.”
I asked him how positive he is, considering that — with all the obstacles — it’s taken more than six years to get this problematic parrot off the ground.
That’s twice the time it took Allegiant to propose, begin building and then simply abandon its Sunseeker shell on Charlotte Harbor where now a half-dozen lonely construction cranes in the otherwise empty skyline swing in the sunset.
“The pandemic has caused me to pause a little more than I used to in my confidence of making claims in this regard. However, our confidence is very high,” Torgerson said. “Drama is behind us.”
He wasn’t ready to give up the goods on how much it might cost the thousands of Southwest Florida Parrot Heads to visit once the place is rockin’ and a rollin’
on a Livingston Saturday Night, joining about 25 other Margaritaville locations in six nations.
“Pricing will be commensurate with the other higher end coastal resorts in Lee and Collier counties,” he said.
I checked near the end of the week for those of you curious about what one might look like, and rates at the Hollywood Beach version started at about $500 nightly for the first open weekend in March.
As someone who has done quite well through these ventures, crooner Jimmy Buffett just might suggest to head over there in your Tony Lama’s on your jeans pressed tight and sample a frozen concoction that helps you hang on.
And the bad news about Sunseeker
Folks who aren’t going to be spending money soon, at least to build a resort, are executives at Allegiant Travel Co.
“We will not invest any more meaningful capital,” President John Redmond said at this month’s earnings meeting. “We have had and continue to have numerous discussions about the art of the possible with various interested parties.”
In a previous call, Chairman Maury Gallagher said they’re open to any inquiries.
“Oh gosh,” Gallagher said. “there’s still zero opportunities now other than the occasional call.”
The Las Vegas-based flier finished 2020 with a $184 million loss after a $232 million profit the previous year. It reported a $28.8 million loss for the fourth quarter, compared to a profit of $60.5 million for the same quarter in 2019.
By near the end of last year, at least 24 unpaid construction work claims worth $18.3 million had been filed related to Sunseeker, Levelset’s Justin Gitelman told me. Through its software, the company works with building firms and related entities to monitor projects nationally, especially as it relates to payments and liens.
Allegiant also agreed to a $20 million settlement with financial backers TPG Sixth Street Partners to end the contract for erecting the resort, which had been slated as a trio of nine-story towers, with more after that on 22 acres.
The airline had said in March it had ditched the $1 billion development until at the earliest, the end of this year. The original open date had been this summer.
“There is no change in the status of Sunseeker,” Corporate Communications Manager Sonya Padgett told me Thursday night. “Construction on the site remains suspended, and we do not have any projections on when that may change.”
The organization had said last year it would take down those 130-foot derricks that no longer symbolize Charlotte County’s progress and wave in the wind to the 52,000 motorists traversing the U.S. 41 bridges every day. But Padgett didn’t have an answer as to why that never happened.
Even if Sunseeker remains grounded, the planes keep flying but not as much.
The carrier picked up and delivered 98,826 passengers through Punta Gorda Airport last month, the worst start to a year since 2017, 36% less than the previous year and even less than the average of 2020’s last three months of 102,771, according to public records.
Overall, the enterprise reports 28% fewer departures than it did a year ago, but it has plans to add more flights including 42 regular routes that won’t launch until at least May.
Punta Gorda’s not part of those. But Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport receives a link to Concord, N.C.’s runway beginning Memorial Day weekend, just in time for NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600.
Based at the Naples Daily News, Columnist Phil Fernandez (email@example.com) writes In the Know as part of the USA TODAY NETWORK. Support Democracy and subscribe to a newspaper.