The Monroe County Tourist Development Council announced Friday it will receive $400,000 for an advertising campaign to counter the misconception that the Gulf oil spill is fouling Florida Keys beaches and waters.
The money is part of a $25 million grant BP has given the state for advertising.
"An amount of $400,000 is needed for advertising to counteract misconceptions regarding the viability of a Florida Keys vacation caused by extensive news media coverage, much of which painted a picture that the Keys were either being impacted by the Gulf oil spill or impacts were imminent and they would be 'devastating,' " TDC Chairwoman Rita Irwin wrote in a prepared statement.
The bulk of the money will be used to advertise within Florida, whose residents and tourists make up the Keys' primary summer market, TDC Director Harold Wheeler said. The balance will be used to advertise in Atlanta and Charlotte, N.C., where airlines fly directly to and from Key West.
BP has given Florida two previous installments of $25 million.
A Keys-based business has filed two lawsuits against BP, bringing the number of cases filed in Monroe County against the oil company to 17.
The latest was filed by Capt. Ally Mercier, a Broward County fisherman who runs recreational charters on his 50-foot Kristin Lee and the 32-foot Reel Strike in Keys waters. Mercier filed two federal lawsuits, one for each boat. Both suits name BP and other companies responsible for the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion and subsequent oil spill.
His business joins a Duval Street attraction, a Key West vacation rental company, a commercial fisherman, a bar, two vacation rental agents in Marathon and seven Upper Keys charter boat captains who have sued. All claim they have suffered cancellations and lost money because of the oil spill. None of their financial losses are outlined in the lawsuits, but each suit is seeking more than $75,000 in damages.
Calls to Mercier's businesses were not returned Friday.
Fort Lauderdale-based attorney Robert McKee and the Key West firm Horan, Wallace & Higgins are representing Mercier. McKee said he has hundreds of other clients from South Florida to Texas, and expects that number to grow.
McKee and his firm have hired their own scientists to gather information on the spill's effect on wildlife and loss of tourism money to his clients, he said.
"Those who are not out there and working in this are not seeing the realities and have no clue how devastating the impact is and will be on maritime interests throughout our region," McKee said.
Nearly a third of the 64 federal civil suits filed in Monroe County are complaints against BP, according to court records.
Most of the suits name Transocean Ltd., BP PLC, BP Products North America Inc., Transocean Deepwater Inc., Transocean Offshore Deepwater Drilling Inc., Halliburton Energy Services Inc., Cameron International Corp. and Cooper Cameron Corp., and claim they are all negligent.
The Coast Guard has not reported any oil sheen or tar balls in the Keys or Dry Tortugas from the oil spill, but those who have filed suit claim the public's perception that oil is here is keeping them away, particularly visitors from outside Florida, McKee said.