Manatee County joins consortium that could distribute oil disaster money

skennedy@bradenton.comOctober 5, 2012 

MANATEE -- Manatee County formally voted Thursday to join a statewide consortium that could funnel millions of dollars here from penalties assessed as a result of the 2010 Gulf oil disaster.

The Manatee County Commission unanimously approved a resolution to become a member of the Gulf Coast Consortium, an entity that could dispense money to 23 Florida coastal counties affected by the oil spill, according to county documents.

The commission also appointed as its consortium delegate Commissioner Carol Whitmore, with Natural Resources Director Charlie Hunsicker as an alternate with voting power, should Whitmore be unavailable.

Many of the 23 counties eligible to be members of the consortium under terms of the federal RESTORE Act have already approved similar agreements, said John Wayne Smith, a consultant for the Florida Association of Counties, which has been helping to organize the group.

"Everybody has their own meeting schedules,"Smith said Thursday.

Pinellas County, Manatee's neighbor to the north, also had just passed its measure to join, he added.

Organizers hope that most of the counties will haveapproved such agreements before the consortium'sfirst meeting, slated for Oct. 22 in Tallahassee, Smith said.

"Walton and Franklin are the two we're waiting on," Smith said.

If all 23 counties legally join the consortium, it would make decisions about how to distribute large sums of money, officials have said.

Manatee County could potentially reap between $4.8 million and $19 million stemming from the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, according to estimates provided by the Florida Association of Counties.

The money would come from fines imposed on the oil giant BP after its oil drilling platform caught fire and exploded in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010, creating the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

The oil blackened parts of five states, including sections of the Florida Panhandle and areas of Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

Manatee County's beaches remained pristine. Still, some money will go even to counties like Manatee, which escaped the oil itself but suffered collateral economic impacts, such as loss of sales tax proceeds, Hunsicker has said.

About 35 cents of every$1 coming to Florida asa result of Clean Water Act penalties will come directly to the counties, under a ratio of 75 percent to Panhandle counties, and 25 percent to "non-oiled" counties like Manatee, according to Hunsicker.

Another 30 cents on the dollar will be distributed through the Gulf Consortium, with a like amount coming through a federal entity, the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council; 5 percent is earmarked for educational, research and scientific bodies, he said.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031.

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