Florida Keys News - Key West Citizen
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
County to discuss BP millions

The Monroe County Commission, on Wednesday, will vote on several issues dealing with receiving money from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, including filing a $17 million lawsuit against BP.

In November, the county contracted with law firm of Campbell Malafy about investigating whether the county is entitled to damages from the oil spill. Under the terms of the contract, the firm is not being paid by the county. The firm would receive 18 percent of revenue it can prove the county is entitled to.

The group claims the county is entitled to $17 million in damages, despite the Florida Keys having a banner tourism season the same year as the spill, 2010.

Lodging occupancy rates throughout the Keys after the spill were higher in every month -- except for August and December -- when compared with the same month the year prior, according to the TDC's lodging statistics. The average cost of a hotel room also was higher in every month of 2010 than it was for the same month in 2009. And, Key West International Airport saw more people arriving in May, June, July and August 2010 -- during the height of the spill disaster -- than during those months in 2009, records show. Tourists spent about as much money after the spill as before, if not more, according to sales tax revenues.

The $17 million lawsuit or claim also covers any future long-term issue the oil spill may cause in the Florida Keys, including impacts to water quality, the fishery or beaches.

Under law, the county has until April 19 to file a lawsuit, according to a county agenda summary.

After hearing a presentation by Malafy Campbell on Wednesday, county attorneys will ask the County Commission if it wants to file a lawsuit against BP.

Also on Wednesday, the commission is slated to appoint a committee that will make recommendations on what projects will receive millions of dollars in Clean Water Act fines levied on BP and Transocean for their roles in the oil spill.

Florida Keys leaders have named their representatives to the committee. Each Keys city made one appointment to the 11-member committee. Each county commissioner appointed a member, and the county mayor appointed two members.

The commission is scheduled to vote on the appointments Wednesday in Marathon.

County Mayor George Neugent named Historic Tours of America founder Ed Swift and Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen's Association Executive Director Bill Kelly to the committee. Commissioner Danny Kolhage named Florida Keys Community College Dean of Marine Science Patrick Rice. Commissioner Sylvia Murphy named former Florida Keys Marine Sanctuary Upper Region Manager John Halas. Commissioner Heather Carruthers named Centennial Bank Vice President Todd German. Commissioner David Rice named Coral Shores High School marine biology teacher David Makepeace.

Key West named Assistant City Manager Mark Finigan. Marathon named Mayor Mike Cinque. Layton named Councilman William Murchie. Key Colony Beach named Commissioner John DeNeale.

The committee will make recommendations on what restoration projects will be funded with Restore Act funds. The funds come from Clean Water Act fines levied on BP and Transocean, the companies responsible for the Deepwater Horizon oil rig spill in 2010.

The County Commission is ultimately responsible for doling out the local Restore Act funds.

The Florida Keys are expected to receive between $5.8 million and $23.2 million, according to estimates given to Monroe County officials.

Also on Wednesday, the commission will vote on using Restore Act funding for canal water quality restoration and storm water projects.

The commission will also discuss the possibility of using the funds for the restoration of the Old Seven Mile Bridge, the purchase of Rowell's Marina in Key Largo and completing the Higgs Beach Master Plan, County Administrator Roman Gastesi said.

The commission meets at 9 a.m. Wednesday at the Marathon Government Center.

tohara@keysnews.com

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