Tallahassee, FL - Florida is not ready to jump into federal court to recover millions in lost revenue from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill and will go its own way for now in talks with the oil company and other players responsible for the April 20 spill that clobbered the Panhandle economy last year.
Touring the Florida Panhandle on the eve of the first anniversary of the largest oil spill in U.S. history, Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi said the state will not join in a federal lawsuit filed in New Orleans to recoup money from Transocean, the company that built the oil rig that exploded, killing 11 workers and spewing more than 4 million barrels of oil into the Gulf, ruining last summer for many along a coast that depends heavily on tourists and fishing.
Speaking to reporters following a tour of Eastern Shipbuilding, a Panama City company that builds supply vessels used to support oil rigs, Scott said the state will focus its attentions on its continuing negotiations with BP, whose oil spilled out of the well, at least until those talks no longer bear fruit.
“It doesn’t make sense for the state to join that lawsuit,” Scott said. “We have a plan to make sure our state is treated fairly with regard to getting reimbursed by British Petroleum for the damages to our state.”
Bondi said state officials have ongoing talks with BP in an effort to come up with a number acceptable to all parties. Right now, those talks remain productive.
“It’s our responsibility to get as much money for them as quickly as we can,” Bondi told the News Service before a scheduled meeting of the Cabinet in Panama City. “The Transocean deadline does not affect us, nor will it affect us if we eventually choose to enter litigation.
“Right now, we’re attempting to reach a settlement,” Bondi said. “What we would do if we did go to litigation, would be to go through the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 before engaging in litigation.”
The federal act requires the state to present a claim directly to BP instead of going to court. Attorneys for the state plan to file an interim claim within the next several months after they get a better handle on damages incurred. If that fails, the state will follow it with litigation against BP.
“If we have to file a claim we will,” Scott said.
Bondi and Scott made their comments as the pair travelled to the Panhandle on a promotional swing as the region enters it tourist season, which, unlike the South Florida season, peaks in the summer. Scott’s itinerary included stops at local shops in downtown Panama City, and a charter fishing trip. He planned stops in Destin and Pensacola on Wednesday, the actual one-year anniversary of the explosion.
The visit comes as local tourism officials and businesses say the initial results point toward a rebound in business as the 2011 tourist season comes into view.
“We’re stomping it,” said Pat Lamar, owner of The Canoe Shop in downtown Panama City. “Nobody talks about the spill anymore, we’re looking ahead. You have to, right?”
Eastern Shipping owner Brian D’Isernia said the spill took its toll. The federal moratorium on deepwater drilling cost him orders for three supply ships.
“It was very difficult to take,” he said of the moratorium.
While the state continues to pursue its recovery, individuals and private businesses continue their own process for reimbursement for lost income under the direction of the BP Gulf Coast Claims Facility, run by Federal Claims Administrator Ken Feinberg. As of Monday, the group has paid out about $3.8 billion to 176,000 claimants region-wide.