Good News for Hillsborough County
$28.5 Million Deal from a BP Settlement
TAMPA — Hillsborough County became the latest Tampa Bay government to prosper from a BP settlement, as commissioners agreed Wednesday to a $28.5 million deal stemming from the disastrous 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
On Tuesday, Pasco commissioners accepted a $7.4 million settlement. A day earlier, Pinellas commissioners voted unanimously to accept a settlement, but won't say for how much. The county was seeking $9.3 million.
While there are no stipulations on how Hillsborough County uses the money, Commissioners Kevin Beckner and Sandy Murman both said the most appropriate use of the funds, which should arrive within 90 days, would be for environmental projects.
Hillsborough sought nearly $43 million in a lawsuit after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in 2010, spewing an estimated 172 million gallons of crude oil into the gulf.
While many jurisdictions received less than half of what they sought, Hillsborough's settlement is about 65 percent of what it asked for.
"It was something we wanted, but we just didn't expect to get that much," Murman said.
Beckner, who first recommended the county pursue damages from BP, said there was initially a lot of skepticism about filing the suit.
"We knew that our economy was damaged, our tourism was damaged," Beckner said. "We received a lot of economic damage to this county because of the egregious actions of BP."
Murman said she expects some of the funds will go toward purchasing conservation lands, beach renourishment and road maintenance.
"A lot of the condition of our roads is from storm damage, water damage and different things like that," Murman said. "This was a gift from heaven."
The county will net about $22.8 million after paying a 20 percent contingency fee to a team of four law firms, with Carl Nelson of Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney being the county's primary contact.
Also Wednesday, Pinellas County attorney Jim Bennett released his government's settlement amount: $9.5 million. The County Commission approved the settlement on Monday but Bennett recommended that the figure be kept under wraps until a federal judge lifted an order requiring discussions on claim resolutions be kept confidential.
The judge gave permission to disclose the number on Wednesday since so many governments have already done so.
Pasco Commissioner Jack Mariano said his county's share of the settlement funds — about $5.8 million after attorneys' fees — could go toward improving county utilities or improvements along U.S. 19.
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said he expects to use the city's $27.4 million settlement — the largest of any city in Florida — on "legacy projects" instead of patching potholes.
Those projects could include the redevelopment of Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park, the West River redevelopment or treating water from Tampa Bay and putting it in the Tampa Bypass Canal.