Local governments sign on to oil spill litigation

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 21, 2011

All county and municipal officials said their respective entities have completed the appropriate paperwork to be a part of multidistrict litigation (MDL) resulting from last year’s oil spill.

A New Orleans federal court is overseeing litigation against companies involved in the oil spill. A February 2012 trial will determine whether Transocean, the owner of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that exploded a year ago this week, and other defendants, including BP, can limit what it pays claimants under Maritime law.

Local governments had until yesterday to complete the paperwork. Those who did not complete paperwork cannot later file lawsuits or be a part of any settlements.

The Andalusia City Council voted Tuesday to join the suit. Mayor Earl Johnson, who is also an attorney, explained that by agreeing to be a part of the MDL, the city was not filing a suit. Instead, he said, the city was ensuring that it would receive a portion of any awards to the state if it is determined that the city indeed lost tax revenue as a result of the oil spill.

County administrator Brenda Petty said the commission has also agreed to join the MDL and is claiming the loss of sales and lodging tax revenues during the period April 20, 2010, through April 19, 2011.

“Covington County has two major routes from north Alabama to the Gulf Coast beaches – I-65 South to FL Hwy. 189 through Andalusia and U.S. Hwy. 331 South though Opp and Florala,” the claim read. “Tourist traffic was significantly diminished during the referenced period, resulting in lost sales and lodging tax revenues for the Covington County Commission. Also, Covington County individuals and or/businesses who lost income due to employment interests along the coast (fishing, boat excursions, etc.) were not financially able to spend money in our local economy.”

Wesley Laird, city attorney for the cities of Florala and Opp, said both entities are also participating.

“It would be foolish not to since those participating can take advantage of the court’s findings against all parties responsible,” Laird said.

Local officials said they opted into the suit in the hopes of recouping some lost tourism dollars as a result of the oil spill.