Manatee-BP settlement amount could max out to $19M

Manatee County officials last week learned the county may receive $3.1 million in BP settlement funds.

But the Florida Association of Counties has revised its estimate of Manatee County’s minimum share of the proposed BP oil spill settlement from $3.1 million to $4.8 million.

Manatee County natural resources director Charlie Hunsicker attended a meeting with the lead attorneys in the suit for the Gulf states — the Gulf Consortium — against BP several weeks ago and was given the $3.1 million estimate.

But that was only a preliminary estimate, Hunsicker said.

The Gulf Consortium hired an accounting firm to review the proposed settlement offer from BP and reported Manatee County could expect at least $4.8 million.

The same report said Manatee County’s maximum share could reach $19.1 million.

The final settlement to the Gulf Consortium has not been determined, but BP has accepted a court order to pay $7.8 billion in private claims. That figure does not include the amount BP will pay to the governments of the five Gulf Coast states impacted by the spill, which could reach more than $10 billion, according to a recent Reuters news story. There is no cap on the amount of BP liability, a federal court has ruled.

The group of lawyers representing Florida in the consortium is still in court, attempting to reach a settlement figure before trial.

Some estimates of the settlement to coastal state governments have been as high as $13 billion.

Florida is the only Gulf Coast state where all settlement funds are being appropriated directly to the 23 affected counties. Louisiana is giving 30 percent of its settlement to its affected counties, while keeping the remaining 70 percent in the state treasury.

Texas, Alabama and Mississippi are planning to put any settlement funds in the general treasury for later disbursement.

The federal court in New Orleans hearing the lawsuits has ruled that any funds received from the settlement must be used by the affected governments for specific purposes.

Those include “restoration and protection of natural resources, ecosystems, fisheries, marine and wildlife habitats, beaches and coastal wetlands of the Gulf Coast region.”

Other allowed projects, among others, are workforce development and job creation, coastal flood protection and related infrastructure, promotion of tourism and the consumption of seafood.

Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore, who was recently appointed to the FAC committee that will advise Florida counties on how to set up disbursement accounts, said the commission has not discussed where local settlement funds will be spent.

“We are waiting to see what the final disbursement is and when it will be received before proceeding,” she said.

Once the amount is known, Hunsicker said he will meet with stakeholders to discuss potential projects.

Eventually, he hopes a working group can be organized to prioritize projects and bring them to the commission.

However, Hunsicker added, it’s a “long way away” before the county receives any settlement, particularly if BP decides to fight the Gulf Consortium in federal court.

“We’re just going to wait and see what happens. These are funds we never expected, so we want to manage them wisely,” he said. “And it’s going to take some time before they are used. We want as much public input and public meetings as possible on this.”

A meeting with Florida lawyers in the Gulf Consortium is planned for Sept. 12 at the Manatee County administration building, he added.

The BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill began April 20, 2010, on an oil rig about 40 miles southeast of New Orleans in the Gulf of Mexico.

An explosion killed 11 people and the cap on the sea bottom to seal the pipeline failed. This resulted in an estimated 4.9 million gallons of oil seeping into the Gulf of Mexico before the leak was contained.

Additionally, 1.9 million gallons of oil dispersant were dumped on the slick.

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