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

TAMPA — The city of Tampa announced Thursday it is seeking more than $50 million in damages from BP to cover past and future losses to tourism, business and local tax revenues caused by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010.

"There are some damages in terms of sales tax revenue and bed tax revenue and gas tax revenue as a result of folks who didn't come to the bay area and didn't come to Tampa specifically," Mayor Bob Buckhorn told the Tampa Bay Times.

While no oil appeared in Tampa Bay, the well gushed uncapped for months and experts speculated about whether it would be spread by currents looping around the Gulf of Mexico. The resulting images and alarm discouraged tourism and depressed business generally, said Steven Yerrid, the city's special counsel on the oil spill.

Forensic accountants have scrutinized more than a dozen sources of city revenue for effects from the spill and have found a "measurable effect," Yerrid said. The revenues examined include property taxes, sales taxes and taxes on city utilities and communication services, as well as street car, golf course and parking revenues.

"It's a broad spectrum," said Yerrid, who also has served as the special counsel to the governor on the spill. "We're talking about significant volumes of dollars."

Yerrid's firm also retained an expert in tourism economics to quantify the impact on each revenue stream by modeling what could have come in if the spill had never happened versus what actually did happen.

Slightly more than half of the city's claim consists of damages that officials expect Tampa will sustain in the future, said Yerrid, whose firm stands to receive 25 percent of money recovered.

Losses could include, for example, the business from an annual visitor who decided to steer clear of Tampa, opted to go to a place like Charleston, S.C., instead and ended up changing his or her vacation routine permanently.

"Now not only do you lose the customer, but you lose the repeat business," he said.

In addition to Tampa, city officials in Pensacola and Key West are seeking damages, and the Hillsborough County Commission has hired a law firm to file a claim on its behalf.

Government claims are being handled by a specialized team and being given a high priority, BP spokesman Ray Melick said in an email Thursday night to the Times.

"BP is committed to paying all legitimate claims relating to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill," he said. "BP has paid out more than $9.8 billion to individuals, businesses, governments and other payments."

Of that, $1.38 billion has been paid to governments through the end of last year, with more than $83 million going to Florida, according to the company.

The Deepwater Horizon rig blew up 50 miles off Louisiana on April 20, 2010. It took BP more than 85 days to cap the well on the sea floor. By that time, an estimated 172 million gallons of crude oil had gushed into the gulf.

Under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, reimbursable losses to governments includes net loss of revenue from taxes, fees or other sources the government was unable to collect and unable to mitigate as a direct result of a spill.

"Shifting the burden from the taxpayers … to the wrongdoer and getting monetary restitution is a priority I think most people would support," Yerrid said.

BP and the city have 90 days to resolve the city's claim. After that, if no satisfactory settlement is reached, the city can file suit to press its claim in court.

"Litigation is always the means of last resort," Yerrid said. "We hope it's not necessary." But, he said, "We certainly aren't ruling out anything."

Times staff writer Bill Varian contributed to this report. Richard Danielson can be reached at Danielson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3403.

Tampa to seek $50 million in oil spill damages from BP 01/17/13 [Last modified: Friday, January 18, 2013 12:02am]
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