County compiles $68.6M wish list

Manatee County commissioners on Jan. 3 agreed to submit a $68.6 million claim to the Texas court hearing the lawsuit brought by the five Gulf coast states against BP Oil Co. for the April 20, 2010, oil spill in the northern Gulf of Mexico near the mouth of the Mississippi River.

But county officials say this money can’t be used for a new pier — to replace the one taken out in the winter of 2009 by the county — at the Manatee Public Beach, 4000 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach, as promised by the county commission.

A replacement pier has been endorsed by the city of Holmes Beach and the Manatee County Tourist Development Council.

A new county pier at the public beach will likely wait until the wish its share of Florida’s BP payout, or a direct payment to Manatee County from BP, but a final settlement is still being negotiated by lawyers representing the county.

Commission Chair John Chappie called it a wish list of projects the county would like to accomplish with BP money. All projects must be related to protecting the marine environment, sensitive wetlands, improving water quality or enhancing a nature preserve, according to the Bradenton Herald.

Topping the county’s wish list is $4.45 million for improvements to the 150 acres the county recently obtained to enlarge the Robinson Preserve in northwest Bradenton.

Charlie Hunsicker, the county’s director of natural resources, wants $50 million set aside to acquire more wetlands and nature preserves that might otherwise be developed in the future.

He said it never hurts to ask for more than what the county might receive, but he realizes the $68.6 million is only a wish.

Commissioner Carol Whitmore said this is the first round of BP payments to the federal government to disburse to the five Gulf states for “shovel-ready and environmental projects only.”

Another phase will be direct payments to the state, while the final BP payments likely will be to the eight Florida counties that submitted separate claims.

Whitmore said the commission appointed her liaison to the law firm that is handling Manatee County’s claim.

“I will definitely put a new pier at the Manatee Public Beach high on the list of projects” to construct from either the state or county funds, she said.

“We can’t use the federal money for a new pier, but after that it looks good,” she said.

Hunsicker said he’s been informed by lawyers representing Florida that Manatee County may receive anywhere from $4.4 million to $19 million in the final BP settlement.

When the settlement is reached and ordered by the court, Florida will be the only state where BP funds will be distributed directly to counties affected by the oil spill. The Texas, Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi legislatures will receive the final settlement directly and establish a commission to hear and approve funding requests from the BP money, Hunsicker has said.

No court decision is expected before July, if then, the Pensacola law firm representing Florida in the suit has said.

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