Special Reports

Fla. seeks another $35 million from BP

ST. PETERSBURG — Officials Wednesday announced that Florida is seeking another nearly $35 million from petroleum giant BP, on top of a $25 million grant already on its way, should a massive gulf oil spill foul the state’s coast.

Gov. Charlie Crist said during a press conference that he was seeking more money, noting that the original $25 million is “a great help,” but adding, “We’re asking for more.”

The original grant would go toward shore restoration and protection, while the additional money, if the company provides it, would aid commerce and tourism, officials said.

Crist said he’d like to spend some of it for marketing efforts, emphasizing that The Sunshine State’s beaches are still clean, and that restaurants, hotels and fishing charter outfits are open and ready for customers.

So far, Florida has not been directly impacted by the spill, but unless a runaway oil well is capped, it will be sooner or later, the governor said.

“Let’s face it, we have an oil volcano out in the Gulf of Mexico that is spewing, you know, literally hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil every single day, so Mission One is to plug it,” he said.

He added later: “I dare say this has the potential to be the largest single environmental and economic disaster in the history of Florida.”

The massive oil spill in the gulf followed an explosion and fire last month at BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig and well, near Louisiana.

Officials are planning to protect sensitive ecological areas should the spill make landfall along Florida’s west coast, said Capt. Tim Close, commander, U.S. Coast Guard Sector St. Petersburg.

But he added a caveat: “It is absolutely not a certainty we’ll be impacted.”

The edge of the spill is approximately 350 miles from St. Petersburg, and has recently been sliding west, Close said.

He outlined plans to protect environmentally sensitive areas with booms or other devices to corral or deflect pollution, but said it’s still too early to actually start such activities.

Officials would begin preparations several days in advance only when they have a better idea where debris from the slick might hit, he said.

Teams of officials were reviewing area contingency plans for individual counties to refine their protection plans, said BP official Keith A. Seilhan .

There are no plans to close the Port of Manatee, Port of Tampa or Port of St. Petersburg, Close said.

Under a vessel decontamination plan, any vessels that arrive here fouled with oil would be cleaned offshore; officials also are encouraging mariners to avoid the oil spill area if possible, Close said.

Close said a “loop current” offshore, a warm ocean current that moves north to south 80-100 miles off the Florida coast, doesn’t appear to be moving much farther south.

“The scientific folks that we have advising us indicate that if any oil gets caught in the loop current, it would stay in the loop current, and move down quite a few miles off the west coast of Florida, as opposed to impacting the beaches and the shoreline on the west coast,” Close said.

Meanwhile, after the press conference, a group of 20 gathered in front of a BP station elsewhere in the city for a demonstration.

Among those holding signs was a family that has recently moved to Manatee County from Rhode Island.

Skip Coogan, 40, who works as a web designer and PC repairman at a Bradenton firm called Manasota Geeks, was holding a sign that read: “Environmental Holocaust.”

His two children, Chloe, 5, and Carr, 2, accompanied him.

“This is really going to impact here,” he said. “It destroys the way of life here for good,” he said, adding, “Normally, we don’t do things like this, but we feel very strongly about this.”

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