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Wind pool to extend to bypass

-- IF YOU GO: Insurance meetings today, Friday

COLUMBIA - Insurance Director Scott Richardson signed an order expanding the wind pool line to U.S. 17 Bypass in Horry County on Wednesday.

The move comes after a careful study of the area where property owners are unable to get coverage at reasonable rates, Richardson said.

In Georgetown County, the line will be expanded to U.S. 17 Bypass at Murrells Inlet and along U.S. 17 through Litchfield and Pawleys Island, he said.

Maps will be available today of the new lines, and Richardson said he and his staff will be available to discuss the lines and why they were chosen at a public meeting in Myrtle Beach today at 5:30 p.m. at the Myrtle Beach High School Auditorium.

"We're not going to make everybody happy," Richardson said.

Property east of the line is guaranteed wind insurance from a state-operated pool, but property west of the line has undergone such sharp spikes in rates the past year that some residents say they can no longer afford to live near the coast.

The line in Horry County has been mainly along U.S. 17 Business, or Kings Highway.

Richardson, a Hilton Head Island real-estate developer and former insurance-company owner, said the risk is moving the wind pool line so far west that it encourages insurance companies to stop writing policies in the area.

That would drive up prices to those people as well as make wind pool coverage more expensive.

Richardson also said he has asked the board that oversees the wind pool to develop "probably a three-tiered system."

The board was preparing to file its new annual rates and this is a good time to look at adjusting the wind pool so that people farther from the waterfront do not have to pay as much as people directly on the beach, he said.

"Having one wind pool rate just doesn't work," Richardson said.

At a news conference planned for this morning in the Capitol, Richardson will discuss the wind pool action along with other initiatives to ease the insurance price pressure on the coast.

"It's not just moving the wind pool line," he said.

Gov. Mark Sanford will also discuss the proposals, which will be put into legislation that will be sponsored by Rep. Harry Cato, R-Travelers Rest. Cato chairs the Labor, Commerce and Industry Committee and will sponsor the legislation.

The bill includes action recommended by Sanford such as strengthening homes to make them more storm-resistant, inspections to help people find out how to do that, assistance for low-income people in making their houses stronger, and tax credits.

Last summer, former Insurance Director Eleanor Kitzman agreed to move the wind pool line to the Intracoastal Waterway but Sanford did not agree to it.

Joel Sawyer, Sanford's spokesman, said the governor had questions about the effect of the change and "Eleanor was never able to answer these questions."

Richardson did "a very thorough job" of justifying expanding the wind pool, and "Scott has been able to answer all the questions this office has," Sawyer said.

Local independent insurance agents say it's a much-needed expansion.

"We are excited at this point of the possibility of having new companies come in to the market because of the pool expansion and the possibility of more capacity for current carriers," said Tim Baxley, president of the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of Horry and Georgetown counties.

Baxley said expansion just to the bypass will help folks in Horry County and parts of Murrells Inlet, but likely won't effect those in Pawleys Island or Litchfield who live west of U.S. 17.

The current wind pool is east of U.S. 17 in that area.

Many condominium owners in Horry County were glad to hear of the expansion.

"That's just very encouraging. I'm really optimistic at this point," said Murrells Inlet condo owner Ray Hester, who has been active in telling insurance officials and lawmakers about the $3,400 extra he had to pay in insurance - which forced his wife and him back into the working world after retirement.

Harry and Barbara Rudiger, also condo owners, live just west of the Intracoastal Waterway and won't be affected.

"That still doesn't help us," Harry said.

Wind pool expansion will provide more insurance availability, but will not necessarily lower rates.

Some homeowners are concerned that a wind pool expansion could increase rates, and most say they want more legislation that would cause a rate reduction.

Brad Dean, president of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, said the expansion is great news and "a good first step."

Dean says there still needs to be reform that will reduce rates and stabilize coverage.

Sammy DeRemigio, former homeowners association president at Waterway Village condominiums, agreed that the expansion is good news, but that more needs to be done.

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