County, cities await BP pact approval

Published 12:02 am Friday, April 20, 2012

Local governments are now waiting and watching after a Wednesday announcement that BP has reached a class-action settlement with attorneys representing thousands of businesses and individuals who made claims after the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The basic terms were announced two days before the second anniversary of the disaster that began with a rig explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon. Eleven workers died.

A federal judge must now give preliminary approval of the pact, which BP estimates will total about $7.8 billion, including associated costs and expenses. The company, in a statement, cautioned the final tally could be higher.

“This settlement demonstrates BP’s continued progress in resolving significant issues related to the Deepwater Horizon accident,” said BP Chief Executive Bob Dudley. “BP made a commitment to help economic and environmental restoration efforts in the Gulf Coast, and this settlement provides the framework for us to continue delivering on that promise, offering those affected full and fair compensation, without waiting for the outcome of a lengthy trial process.”

The settlement would be paid from a $20 billion trust and would cover the majority of economic, property and medical damage claims, BP said; however, legal experts said the settlement with the private plaintiffs, while significant, represents a relatively minor step for the company in the resolution of the spill litigation. Still looming is a massive civil trial that pits BP and its corporate partners on the doomed Deepwater Horizon rig against the federal government and a half-dozen Gulf states – including Alabama – as well as possible federal criminal charges related to the disaster.

So, now the heads of local government in Andalusia, Opp, Florala and the Covington County Commission who joined the suit last April, are waiting.

Andalusia, Florala and Opp said they still hope to recoup lost tax revenue as a result of lost tourism dollars because of the oil spill. The commission filed a claim for 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.”

Assistant County Administrator Pam Steele said the county hasn’t received any word about the case against BP.