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Tampa to claim $50 million in damages from BP oil spill

Tampa Tribune
Kevin Wiatrowski

TAMPA – The city will seek $50 million in compensation from BP for losses related to the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Mayor Bob Buckhorn announced Thursday.

“Although we did not have actual oil contaminate the Tampa region, the negative repercussions are far reaching,” Buckhorn said in a written statement.

“As the mayor of the largest city on the west coast,” Buckhorn added, “I could not ignore our responsibility to take all the steps necessary to ensure that BP is held responsible for the detrimental effects of this monumental event and its aftermath.”

Those effects started with lost tax revenue when the spill prompted tourists to cancel their Florida vacations, city officials say, and grew to include lost income from utilities, licensing, sales taxes and the like.

The city’s claim amounts to about one-seventh of its $345 million general fund income, which pays for day-to-day operations.

“There’s just a whole gamut of various revenue streams that are affected,” said Steve Yerrid, the Tampa attorney hired the city hired last year to assess its claim to damages. “The people that didn’t come during that critical period went elsewhere and now they’ve found someplace else they like.”

Yerrid served as former Gov. Charlie Crist’s special counsel as the state dealt with the spill.

Yerrid cited the Tampa Convention Center as one place in the city that suffered a quantifiable loss because of the spill. A group planning a 10-day meeting there pulled out after the spill and demanded a full refund, Yerrid said.

Damages like that echo into the future, Yerrid said, as the state and the city deal with the perception they’re damaged goods.

“The longer view is the only view we can make because we only have a one-time opportunity to make this work,” Yerrid said.

The city and BP have 90 days to reach a settlement on the claim. If they can’t, the city can sue to get what it wants.

“This doesn’t mean we’re suing them tomorrow,” Yerrid said. “This means we’re putting it all on the table.”

Buckhorn favors a negotiated settlement.

“We plan to engage in meaningful dialogue and negotiations with BP over the next 90 days, with the anticipation that we may resolve this matter without the necessity of litigation,” the mayor said in his statement.

If BP signs onto the city’s claim, the payment scheme – a single check or payments spread out over time – will be part of the negotiations, Yerrid said.

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