MANATEE -- Manatee County officials may reveal next week how much Thursday's $18.7 billion settlement between BP and the U.S. government could flow into the county for damages caused in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
"We may have something to say Monday or Tuesday," said Charlie Hunsicker, Manatee director of parks and natural resources. "Right now I'm obliged to follow the direction in a confidential agreement I signed as an employee not to talk about this until instructed by the judge in the case."
Hunsicker was referring to the federal judge who is expected soon to accept or reject the settlement that could resolve years of legal fighting between BP and the U.S. government over Clean Water Act penalties caused by the spill five years ago.
Florida will get at least $3.25 billion for damage caused by the spill, according to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch. Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas will also receive shares of the settlement.
"We don't know which agencies in Manatee County will be receiving funds from the settlement," said Ashley Williams, a Florida Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman.
As a part of the agreement in principle, BP's payment is broken down between Clean Water Act penalties, natural resource damage claims and economic claims by state and local governments.
Williams also said she didn't know yet how Manatee County's share will break down between Clean Water Act Penalty Funds or natural resource damage claim funds.
Louisiana received the largest share of the settlement money -- about $6.8 billion -- and officials said the payments will be received over the next 16 years.
"We are pleased with this progress toward ultimate resolution with BP," said Chairman Brian Yablonki of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Manatee County's shoreline did not sustain any known oil damage, but it is also not known how many regular county visitors canceled trips due to the damage in the Gulf, according to county officials.
Although he could not speak about the settlement, two months ago Hunsicker speculated Manatee County will use some funds to "restore areas that weren't necessarily damaged but available to fuel the next generation of recovery."
Those areas would include Robinson Preserve, which is the site of an expansion plan, Hunsicker added.
Monies the county could get through the Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast Act of 2012 include $1.75 million for restoration of Robinson Preserve and an additional $900,000, which is determined based on a weighted formula of average population, distance to Deepwater Horizon and average tax collections per capita.
Florida should not accept BP's settlement until it is confident a full scope of the damage is known, said Suzi Fox, executive director of Anna Maria Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring Program.
"I feel I don't want us to settle too quickly," Fox said. "I don't think we are close to knowing the total damage done. We won't know that for years to come. It's like getting someone to sign a waiver after an accident. People in accidents should not sign things too quickly."
As an example, sea turtles hatched in Manatee County go out into the Gulf of Mexico where they live in giant floating islands of algae called sargassum.
"To my knowledge, no one has ever studied what the oil did to the sargassum," Fox said. "Sea turtles float in the sargassum and get their food there. They come back to Manatee County when they are about 30. So we won't know for a while how many turtles died in the spill."
Audubon Florida officials said they are ready to help decide where Florida's funds should be spent.
"This is an important moment for Florida's Gulf ecosystem," said Eric Draper, Audubon Florida executive director. "July 2, 2010, was the first day when oil impact notices were posted on Florida beaches. Now, five years later, funds will finally be committed to managing and improving coastal habitats and water resources."
Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange called the settlement a "home run," and he and Gov. Robert Bentley said they believed a looming jury trial was a significant factor in reaching the settlement.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter @RichardDymond.