Julie Patel, of the Sun-Sentinel, does a fantastic job reporting on insurance issues. Her latest piece on sinkholes, Sinkhole Claims Push up Insurance Premiums in Florida, suggests that the root cause of the problem is the geology underneath Florida structures. She reported:
There may be another factor for the rise in sinkhole claims, according to a Sun-Sentinel analysis of claims and interviews with geologists. The ground in Florida has shifted more quickly in the past few decades as development accommodated the state’s growing population. That has triggered damage in homes across the state.
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"You moved people into an area, change it drastically … and you will increase the whole occurrence [of sinkholes]. We’ve shown that," said Ann Tihansky, a physical scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey.
Geologists have warned for decades that Florida’s development, and pumping groundwater in particular, accelerates the development of sinkholes.
One shining example: When strawberry farmers in Plant City pumped groundwater to save their crops from cold temperatures in early 2010, they triggered dozens of sinkholes.
The growth in the number of sinkholes can’t just be blamed on phony claims, said Bill Sinclair, a retired geologist who researched Florida sinkholes for the Geological Survey. "The impact of the population growth has a lot to do with that. There’s more well pumping, more unbalance in the system," he said.
As Corey Harris and I were flying back to Tampa on Monday from a hearing in Ft. Myers, I pointed out to him all the obvious sinkholes on farms, ranches and undeveloped lands. They could easily be seen from the air. I remember throwing trash and burning debris on a couple of large sinkholes on my grandfather’s ranch in Brandon, Florida, when I was a child. That ranch now has a housing community on it. Everybody knows that similar lands have been developed throughout Florida.
It is amazing how little discussion there has been regarding the underlying reason for Florida’s many sinkhole claims. The primary reason is that Florida geology has extreme karst topography.