BP oil spill case could mean millions for Manatee County's environmental conservation

jtate@bradenton.comOctober 23, 2013 

Louisiana Oil Rig Explosion

GERALD HERBERT/ASSOCIATED PRESS In this aerial photo taken in the Gulf of Mexico more than 50 miles southeast of Venice on Louisiana's tip, a boat with an oil boom tries to contain oil spilled from the explosion and collapse of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, approximately seven miles from where the rig sunk, on Friday, April 23, 2010.

GERALD HERBERT — AP

MANATEE -- Pending the ruling from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill case, Manatee County will submit plans to spend any restitution funds it may receive to restore and conserve the habitat and water quality.

Manatee County is hoping and applying for nearly $70 million. It expects to receive much less.

BP faces fines and restitution costs ranging up to $18

billion as the U.S. District Court in New Orleans continues a complex trial consolidating thousands of lawsuits stemming from the April 20, 2010, Deepwater Horizon oil disaster that spilled millions of gallons of crude into the Gulf of Mexico while killing 11 workers and injuring 16. The trial began Sept. 29 and is expected to conclude possibly in January.

BP has already established an eco-restoration fund where claims can be filed. The Manatee County Commission approved a resolution at the Tuesday morning meeting outlining how the county would spend any funds received from BP.

The total for all proposed Manatee County projects came to $68.6 million. Charlie Hunsicker, Manatee County Natural Resources Department director, said the county will likely receive somewhere between $4 million and $15 million.

Hunsicker said if the county doesn't get the full amount it takes to fund all project proposals, it will do what can be done with what is given.

Hunsicker said the millions the county may possibly receive does not include money paid to specific businesses or individuals who filed suits.

"They are getting the funding they need to build resiliency in the environment of the Gulf so the natural shoreline can contribute to the rapid recovery in future environmental disasters both near and far," said Hunsicker.

Although no oil reached Manatee County shorelines, Hunsicker said all counties along the Gulf of Mexico qualify for BP money from damages to build resiliency against future natural disasters.

"They are responsible for the Gulf from Brownsville, Texas, to Key West, Fla.," said Hunsicker.

The money could pay for the $4.45 million Robinson Preserve phase II restoration, the $1.58 million Manatee-Hillsborough conservation land corridor connection, $1.5 million for the Manatee County Ecosystem Restoration Task Force and restore 2,595 acres of former agriculture land within the Lake Manatee watershed to the Duette Preserve longleaf pine ecosystem for $1.375 million.

Jessica Koelsch, a Gulf restoration policy specialist, spoke to the county commission about why the resolution is needed.

"My whole goal is to help those decision-makers do good projects," said Koelsch.

Koelsch said the commission will receive a lot of pressure to do projects far away from the Gulf Coast. She urged focus remain on the coastline.

"Manatee County has so many natural treasures and these funds are a great opportunity to enhance those even more, so I'm thrilled that it's in the forefront of their minds and I hope it stays there," said Koelsch.

Hunsicker said the county would receive any money over a period of time in structured payments. He said he hopes in January to hear decisions coming from the court about the trial.

Janey Tate, city of Bradenton and Palmetto reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041. You can follow her on Twitter at Janey_Tate.

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