Sunday, February 18, 2018
Business

Flood insurance increases would hit St. Petersburg's Shore Acres hard

ST. PETERSBURG

In the nearly four decades he has lived on Arrowhead Drive in Shore Acres, Donald Coffey has seen his home flood five times. • That's enough to give his 66-year-old house a dubious distinction — one of the most flood-prone homes on one of the most flood-prone streets in one of the most flood-prone communities of Tampa Bay.

"But in all those years, you've never seen a flood here like you see on TV,'' says Coffey, a retired insurance agent. "We don't see a big tidal wave coming in here to get you. It just slowly rises.''

Shore Acres, with its 2,300 homes on or near the water, has helped make St. Petersburg one of the top 30 places in the country for claims filed with the National Flood Insurance Program since 1978. But because Shores Acres' flooding is not the catastrophic type found in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina or in the Northeast during Superstorm Sandy, homeowners have paid far more into the flood program than they've gotten back.

Even with hundreds of claims from Shore Acres in the past 35 years, homeowners there and in other parts of St. Petersburg have been reimbursed just $55 million to cover losses but have paid around $480 million in premiums.

And those premiums will skyrocket under the Biggert-Waters Act, which is phasing out subsidized rates for older homes. It's part of a move to shore up the flood program, now $24 billion in debt primarily because of claims from Katrina and Sandy.

St. Petersburg has had almost no serious flooding since 2004's Hurricane Frances, largely because of millions of dollars' worth of road and drainage improvements. Much of the flood prevention effort has been in Shore Acres, where a Tampa Bay Times analysis found that 260 single-family homes filed at least two flood claims between 1978 and 2004.

Other findings:

• Three-fourths of the houses in St. Petersburg with multiple claims are in Shore Acres.

• Bayou Grande Boulevard, which winds along the water in Shore Acres, is the most flood-prone street in St. Petersburg. As of 2004, Bayou Grande had 52 multiclaim houses, with a total of 160 claims.

Other streets in the top five are in Shore Acres, too: Denver Street (26 houses with at least two claims), Shore Acres Boulevard (24 houses), New Hampshire Avenue (16 houses) and Arrowhead Drive (15 houses).

• For the 354 houses in St. Petersburg that have flooded at least twice, the biggest year for claims was 1985, when Hurricane Elena stalled in the Gulf of Mexico for days. Other big-claim years: 1996 (Tropical Storm Josephine), 1982 (a June no-name storm) and 2004 (Frances).

• Of the houses with multiple claims, 72 had four or more claims. One house on Bayou Grande had eight, the most of any in the city.

"He'd always make a claim, it was like Christmas,'' current owner David Devol says of the previous occupant.

The 52-year-old waterfront house has stayed dry since Devol bought it in 1998. But because it used to flood so often, the premiums could soar from the current $1,400 to at least $6,000 or $8,000 if he renews his policy.

"I paid off my mortgage so I don't have to have flood insurance,'' says Devol, a retired business consultant. "Not everybody can do that.''

As in other parts of the Tampa Bay area, most of the St. Petersburg houses affected by the new flood law are relatively modest places not on the water. The median size of homes with two or more flood claims is 1,510 square feet, and the median market value is $122,953, the Times analysis found.

Only about 25 percent are waterfront homes.

Street flooding continues to be a problem in Shore Acres, where a heavy rain can make it hard to get around without a canoe or high-rise vehicle. But saltwater flooding has been greatly reduced since the city raised Bayou Grande and other streets by 6 inches and built vaults to keep drainage pipes from backing up in high tides.

William Walker, a lawyer who lives on Denver Street, says that is one of many reasons to remain in Shore Acres despite its flood-prone rap.

After their house flooded a third time, in 1996, Walker and his wife used insurance money to add a second story rather than move to higher ground. Although they still have flood insurance — about $2,000 a year now, much more if Congress doesn't delay the new rate increases — it is a price they are willing to pay because they like their neighbors and the proximity to parks, tennis courts and a public golf course.

"So many amenities are concentrated around our area,'' Walker says. "You just can't beat it."

Susan Taylor Martin can be reached at [email protected]

 
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