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Manatee County invited to file lost-tax oil spill claim

MANATEE -- A Tallahassee law firm has asked whether Manatee County commissioners want to file a claim to recoup local taxes lost due to the Gulf oil disaster.

“With respect to the loss of these tax revenues, BP is responsible under the Oil Pollution Act,” said the letter dated earlier this month and signed by Donald M. Hinkle, an attorney with the law firm of Hinkle & Foran.

Preparing a claim would require economic expertise to determine the total lost revenue, and the firm has already retained experts who are working with other counties and private claimants to do so, the letter said.

“For 20 percent of the recovery, we will take your data and prepare expert reports and make the presentation to BP,” it said, referring to BP, the company that has set up a $20 billion fund to help pay claims in connection with the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

If the claim is not settled, the firm is prepared to pursue it through an ongoing court case in New Orleans, according to the letter, which also noted that the county would be at “absolutely no risk,” as costs and attorneys’ fees are charged on a contingency basis.

The law firm already has been hired to represent five other counties, plus other cities and school boards, all in Florida, Hinkle said Thursday.

Although the State of Florida intends to pursue recovery of revenue sharing and other tax revenues collected statewide, it does not intend to pursue local taxes, such as the School Capital Outlay Surtax and the Local Option Fuel Surtax, Hinkle noted.

County Attorney Tedd Williams Jr., could not be reached for comment.

So far, a total of 1,945 claims have been paid in Manatee County, totalling $26,878,071.96, according to data posted Wednesday on the website of the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, which is handling claims for BP.

Florida individual claims total $921,744,852,12; business claims statewide total $1,551,003,899.75, according to Amy Weiss, a spokesperson for the claims facility.

To date, BP has already paid out more than $7.8 billion to individuals, businesses and government entities, according to Craig Savage, Florida press officer for BP America.

The company has paid about $1.3 billion specifically to government entities, Savage said Thursday, adding, “BP will pay all legitimate claims brought by these entities and their representatives.”

The oil spill began April 20, 2010, with an explosion and fire at the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, which killed 11.

More than 200 million gallons of oil gushed from the site before the wellhead was capped on July 15, comprising the largest accidental marine oil spill in the industry’s history.

Although 665 miles of coastline was contaminated during the spill, the oil never reached Manatee County shores.

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