- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 9, 2006

JUPITER ISLAND, Fla. — There is no bustle of activity on the narrow two-lane road serving as the connection between this enclave of wealth and the Martin County mainland. The only signs of life are an occasional dog walker, jogger or resident in a golf cart.

Summer — and hurricane season — is settling in on Jupiter Island, a secluded 17-mile strip where Atlantic Ocean waves gently lap one side, and the warm breeze pushes toward the Intercoastal Waterway, sparkling on the other.

Here, among the manicured lawns, long driveways, security cameras and protective fences sits one of Florida’s most expensive collections of homes — nearly $2 billion in taxable value, worth an average of $4 million apiece.

Yet even the rich and famous cannot escape this reality: All the security measures in the world may keep curious eyes away, but they’ll provide little protection if the eye of a hurricane decides to bear down.

“Well, I suppose that is true,” said Dena Standley, 52, a London-based author who in the spring vacationed at a friend’s 10-bedroom island getaway; she would not identify the owner, citing his privacy. “I gather people here know that is the case. This is paradise. Bad things are not supposed to happen in paradise, no?”

Ah, but they have — with alarming regularity in recent years.

But if a big one comes, most people here will be ready.

Real estate agents suggest that at least 25 percent of the 500 or so homes on the island have a high-end generator at the ready. Because the island is largely vacant during hurricane season, shutters are up from June into November at most of the multimillion-dollar properties. And for those who do stay year-round, many have either handymen on call or the top-of-the-line automatic shutters, so they can protect their homes with a simple flip of a switch.

Even with that level of preparedness, they do not fixate on hurricane season — in fact, many are tired of hearing about it already.

“In real estate, last summer was completely dead here, not just because of hurricanes but the threat of hurricanes,” said Ruthie Bullard, an agent with Illustrated Properties. “Newspapers are constantly bombarding us with doom and gloom that hurricanes are coming, but people here already know about it. We know it’s a possibility. We don’t need to hear it every day, that this is going to be the worst season in 40 years.”

Jupiter Island, a multitime choice as Worth magazine’s richest town in America, teems of uniqueness. Many of the homes have names — Chanticleer, Snail’s Pace, Sunrise Ridge. Most have gates blocking the driveway. “Small houses” here are selling for about $6 million.

President Bush’s grandfather, Sen. Prescott Bush, was one of the town’s earliest residents. Tiger Woods recently bought a $38 million estate here. Another golf great, Greg Norman — who famously rode out Hurricane Frances at his home — is nearby, as are singer Celine Dion and actor Burt Reynolds.

During the winter, only 1,800 people are privileged enough to call this home. In the summer, the population dips to 600. And if a storm churns their way, most residents heed warnings and leave.

“To be honest, given that there are a lot of part-time residents there, that helps,” said Keith Holman, the longtime emergency management director for Martin County. “When a storm is coming, many of them are already gone, and most others evacuate. We coordinate with them, and honestly, I don’t remember any real problems there.”

According to data collected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 28 hurricane centers have passed within 50 nautical miles of Jupiter Island since 1865, a rate of one every five years.

But in the past two hurricane seasons, three major systems — Frances and Jeanne in September 2004, and Wilma last October — brought their destructive wrath tantalizingly close to the barrier island. Yet other than some felled trees, toppled power lines and beach erosion, Jupiter Island fared well in each.

At least a handful of longtime owners have put properties on the market in the past year citing hurricane fatigue as the reason, but the vast majority remains undeterred, thinking that 300-plus days of perfect weather annually is enough of a trade-off.

“There was one hurricane; after it went through, I said, ‘That’s it. I’m out of here,’” Miss Bullard said. “We had no electricity from Stuart to Key West. And then you go outside, it’s clear as a bell, beautiful and you could see the Milky Way. And I said right then, ‘This is why we live in Florida.’”

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