More than 200,000 people living in 40 Luzerne County municipalities could be at risk of sustaining property damage from mine subsidence. Yet there are just 4,935 mine subsidence insurance policies issued throughout the county by the state Department of Environmental Protection.
DEP recently announced a reduction in Mine Subsidence Insurance program premiums, by about 15 percent for a residence and by more than 50 percent for a non-residence. The nonprofit and self-sustaining insurance program covers losses from damage caused by abandoned coal or clay mines and by sudden discharge of water that may be contained in a mine void.
Such damage is usually not covered by homeowner policies, according to the DEP, which is why the MSI program was started in 1961. There are currently about 57,000 policyholders statewide, DEP spokeswoman Amanda Witman said, while there are about 1 million people living in areas with potential for mine subsidence.
‚??It shows there is quite a disparity,‚?Ě Witman said.
Property owners can see if they should consider purchasing MSI by logging onto www.paMSI.org and typing in their zip code, then choosing their municipality. If the site reports that mining has occurred in that area, the property owner can call a toll free number ‚?? 800-922-1678 ‚?? and ask for more information. ‚??We have really sophisticated mine maps that help us determine if a property is at risk,‚?Ě Witman said.
The maps are not so precise as to pinpoint houses to the individual address, Witman said; even if they were, a house can be still be damaged when a subsidence occurs next door. But the data can be detailed enough to show one street may be at risk while another isn‚??t.
Insurance costs about 55 cents for every $1,000 of coverage; an average policy of $160,000 would cost $87.50 a year, or about $7 a month, according to the MIS website.
The cost of not having insurance can be steep. The average damage is about $50,000, but claims have been paid in excess of $200,000. From July 1, 2010 through June 30, 2011, MSI paid out $400,000 on 14 claims in Luzerne County.
The website has an extensive ‚??frequently asked questions.‚?Ě Property owners can also make informal requests for information about mining and maps by calling 724-769-1100 or emailing EP-CSR@pa.gov.