Storms batter Panhandle law
House Speaker Allan Bense wants lawmakers to discuss why the area doesn't require protection on new homes.
Published July 26, 2005
PANAMA CITY - The Florida Panhandle, which has been pounded by two hurricanes and a tropical storm in the past year, is the only part of the state where home builders aren't required to protect windows from hurricanes.
Now one of the state's most powerful politicians is asking why.
"In light of Ivan, Arlene and Dennis, I think we need to relook at that part of the equation," said House Speaker Allan Bense.
Bense thinks the Legislature should re-examine the Panhandle's exemption from state window protection requirements that were enacted as part of a tougher statewide building code in 2002.
In the rest of Florida - including Pinellas County and coastal parts of south Hillsborough, Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties - windows in new homes must be made of impact-resistant glass or must be covered with shutters or panels. Stronger roof shingles also are required.
But when the building code was adopted, lawmakers in the Panhandle argued the region was less hurricane-prone. So in Florida's 12 westernmost counties, the tougher standards are enforced only in buildings within a mile of the coast. Even there, older homes are exempt.
After Ivan hit the Panhandle last year, several lawmakers questioned that strategy. Some of them sponsored bills to eliminate the exemption, but they ran into opposition and died.
Now, in the wake of Arlene and Dennis, the issue is coming up again.
"I'm not saying, "Let's go pass a bill,"' said Bense, R-Panama City. "I'm saying, "Let's debate it."'
Many builders in the region remain opposed to the window protection requirement because it increases the price of homes. They argue that storm surge and beach erosion are a bigger threat than wind-blown debris even though Dennis caused extensive inland damage after making landfall July 10 between Pensacola Beach and Navarre Beach.
Bense said that, from what he has seen of that destruction, an argument still could be made that 95 percent of the damage was water-related and that the storm still did not test the code's wind protection requirements.
Sam Miller, executive vice president of the Florida Insurance Council, welcomed Bense's support at least for taking another look at the issue.
"Maybe after this hurricane season, the home builders will join with us to eliminate carve-outs," Miller said.
Some of the most devastating hurricane damage is caused when wind blows out windows, howls through a building and exerts enough pressure to blow off the roof. This can force a house to collapse.
The statewide rules on window protection and roofing apply in an area called the "Wind-Borne Debris Region," which the state defines as locations likely to see wind speeds of more than 120 mph during a hurricane. That also includes areas within a mile of the coast where wind speeds are likely to be 110 mph or higher.
The regulations are in effect in all of Pinellas County; a sliver of Hillsborough County near the Manatee line; part of west Pasco; and a mile-wide strip of the Hernando and Citrus coasts.
[Last modified July 26, 2005, 04:47:14]
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