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Date of Issue: April 06, 2006

Wind insurance rules unfair to Islanders

As just about any Anna Maria Island home and property owner can tell you, it pays to live within 1,000 feet of the Gulf of Mexico.

Well, it doesn't exactly pay, but it sure saves you a heck of a lot of money when it comes time to get wind insurance.

That's because the Citizens Property Insurance corporation operated by the State of Florida will only issue a wind insurance policy - read "Hurricane insurance" - on an Island home or business building if it's within 1,000 feet of the Gulf of Mexico.

Sorry about that for most of you business and home owners on the bayside that fall outside the 1,000-foot perimeter.

But not so in Sarasota and on Longboat Key, where both cities are designated by the state in a "V-zone" and eligible for its cheap wind insurance policies, saving taxpayers in those cities millions of dollars annually.

"That's unequitable," said Christiaan Huth of Oswald Trippe Insurance in Holmes Beach, whose office is just about 1,300 feet from the Gulf, and thus doesn't qualify for Citizens.

If you're in the designated wind zone, Huth said he has a number of companies, particularly the Hartford, that will offer an owner an attractive homeowner's insurance policy because it doesn't have to cover wind damage from a hurricane. And flood insurance is covered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Outside the V-zone, however, get your checkbook ready.

The wind zones established by the state several years ago are not fair decisions, maintained Huth. "In Sarasota, you can get a low-cost wind policy and you might be almost to Interstate 75, about five miles from the Gulf."

On Anna Maria Island, homeowners outside the 1,000-foot zone can still get wind insurance, but the premiums don't come cheap. For business owners in that same area, it's impossible to get wind insurance, Huth said.

For example, Huth recently wrote a homeowner's insurance policy for a Gulffront home. The homeowner's annual premium without the wind insurance was $700, while Citizens stepped in with wind insurance for $2,300 for a total annual premium of $3,000.

"That same home in Key Royale in Holmes Beach would have to pay about $4,500 for property and wind insurance," said Huth.

If that sounds high, consider the case of one Island resident who purchased a $1 million house, then found it was 100 feet outside the wind zone. Ineligible for a Citizens policy, his wind policy from a private insurance company cost $17,000 a year, while his homeowner's insurance premium is around $1,500 annually.

In another odd twist, Citizens can write a commercial wind policy anywhere within the Sarasota and Longboat Key city limits, but must maintain the 1,000-foot restriction on Anna Maria.

That means people looking to purchase their business as a "condominium," such as those in Bayview Plaza in Anna Maria, are caught in the bureaucratic mess. Citizens doesn't consider Anna Maria's bayside waters to be part of the Gulf of Mexico.

Bayview Plaza business owners need wind insurance to get a mortgage to buy their location, but can't get wind insurance anywhere. Therefore, they can't buy their units and are stuck paying the ever-increasing rents due to spiraling taxation.

"Citizens won't write a policy for commercial space on the Island not within 1,000 feet of the Gulf, but will in Sarasota because the entire city has been placed in the wind insurance-eligible zone. That's totally unfair," said Huth.

In an effort to get some equal protection, a number of local insurance agencies are banding together to petition the Florida Insurance Commission to change the Island's V-zone designation, and they've enlisted the aid of State Rep. Bill Galvano of Bradenton and Sen. Mike Bennett.

"I sympathize with people who can't get wind insurance on their business, or who have to pay a really high premium for their house. We'll do all we can to help find them insurance at the best price.

"I just wonder why Sarasota gets wind insurance almost five miles from the Gulf, while some people here are just 1,200 feet away and can't get a policy."

But the wind blows in strange directions on Anna Maria Island.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection recently indicated it would include Anna Maria's bayside coastline from the Rod & Reel Pier north around Bean Point in its list of critically eroded beaches and the DEP considers this area to be part of the Gulf of Mexico, as does University of Florida marine engineer Dr. Robert Dean.

Whether it's part of the Gulf of Mexico or not apparently depends on which way the wind is blowing.