Special Reports

Millions coming to Manatee County as a result of 2010 oil disaster, officials say

MANATEE -- Manatee County can expect between $4.7 million and $19 million from penalties or a settlement stemming from the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, officials said Wednesday.

"It's good news, and it'll come directly to you," John Wayne Smith, representing the Florida Association of Counties, told county commissioners during a briefing.

The money would come from oil giant BP after the Deepwater Horizon 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 money will pay for projects from a priority list county officials will compile in order of importance, officials said.

The types of projects that might be granted funds could be such things as big environmental monitoring programs, like Manatee County already operates in the Gulf; complex improvements to local estuaries; or ideas proposed by cities like Bradenton or Holmes Beach, which would be competitively awarded, Charlie Hunsicker, the county's director of natural resources, has said previously.

He was out of town Wednesday and did not address commissioners.

"I'm thrilled to death," said Manatee County Commission Chairman John Chappie, noting that the money presents "all kinds of opportunities to Manatee County."

County Administrator Ed Hunzeker suggested "a conversation with the community" so everyone gets a chance to make a pitch for money in an organized way.

County Commissioner Joe McClash suggested that work to counter severe erosion at Egmont Key, an island at the mouth of Tampa Bay, might be a regional project that could be accomplished with the money.

Although Manatee's beaches remained pristine, oil blackened parts of five states, including sections of the Florida Panhandle and areas of Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

Altogether, BP is expected to pay between $5 billion and $20 billion in federal Clean Water Act penalties, or as a result of a settlement, said Smith.

About 80 percent of the money will go into the Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund, from which money will be doled out to restore the economies and natural

resources of the Gulf Coast region, he said.

Florida counties whose beaches were blackened will get more money than those like Manatee, which escaped the oil itself but suffered collateral damage, such as loss of sales tax proceeds, officials have said.

Locally, some of the money is expected to go to geographically larger entities, such as the Tampa Bay Estuary program, and to a Florida consortium that is not yet formed, Smith said.

The consortium will be comprised of representatives of 23 Florida coastal counties affected by the spill, he said.

It's important for Florida to quickly form its consortium in order to snare money coming from BP through the federal government, said Doug Darling, also representing the Florida Association of Counties.

"We're a little bit behind the power curve," in influencing what will happen, Darling said, adding that such a consortium should be formed by Oct. 1.

If Florida counties do not quickly form their consortium to coordinate restoration projects, there might be plenty of people who would step in and take over, said Darling.

"The counties have to band together, sing Kumbayah, and manage this in a responsible fashion," he said.

The association is hosting a meeting Sept. 19 for those from Florida coastal counties affected by the disaster, said Darling.

County Commissioner Carol Whitmore will represent Manatee County at the meeting, which is open to the public, officials said.

It is set for 10 a.m. at the Loews Don CeSar Hotel, 3400 Gulf Blvd., St. Pete Beach.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @Sarawrites.