TALLAHASSEE — Saying he was preparing for the worst while hoping for the best, Gov. Charlie Crist on Monday assembled a small army of generals to provide legal advice to Florida as they brace for a potential legal skirmish with oil giant BP.
Former Attorneys General Bob Butterworth and Jim Smith have agreed to advise Crist, also a former attorney general, and current Attorney General Bill McCollum for no charge on what the state must do to prepare a case again the oil giant.
Their job will "do all the things that may be necessary to be legally prepared for this,'' McCollum said.
McCollum said that BP's general counsel has said it will pay every damage claim filed by both government and individuals for lost revenues, business and environmental costs and "err on the side of granting the claim'' when they are disputed.
But McCollum added that he is "not confident" the state won't ultimately have to sue the company, just as the state of Alaska did after the Exxon Valdez spill.
"There was a period of great cooperation with Exxon and then at some period it broke down,'' McCollum said. "I'm hopeful this won't.''
Crist, who spent Saturday in Apalachicola meeting with oystermen and fishermen and Sunday with charter boat operators in Destin, said that while no oil had yet reached Florida's beaches, "there probably already has been some economic impact.''
The U.S. Coast Guard began work fortifying another stretch of the beach, this time Apalachicola and Port St. Joe, east of their current operations in Pensacola and Panama City.
The Coast Guard is setting up staging areas there to respond to any oil damage including laying down boom, followed by oil skimmers and then vacuum trucks to suck up the oil and tar balls.
"You will see boots on the ground,'' Steve Caskey, a Coast Guard commander, promised officials from Franklin, Taylor, Wakulla and Leon counties. "It's going to be a massive effort.''
But his assurances did not seem to calm the widespread anxiety from local officials who said they both feared the top-down approach the Coast Guard was taking in responding to the crisis and the reliance on BP as the experts in how to respond.
"It may take more than BP to respond to this thing,'' said Howard Kessler, a Wakulla County commissioner.