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Pasco commission agrees to BP oil spill settlement

Pasco County commissioners agreed Tuesday to a settlement of $7.4 million from BP, the company responsible for a 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico considered one of the worst U.S. environmental disasters.

The money should arrive within 90 days, said Thomas Young, an attorney representing the county in negotiations with BP, and the county can use it however it sees fit. Pasco will net $5.8 million after paying attorney fees, Commissioner Jack Mariano said.

Mariano said the County Commission will wait until the money is in the county's coffers before earmarking it.

"Whatever we do, it's going to be designed to be something that will be a one-time occurrence," Mariano said after the commission met privately with its legal team to discuss the offer.

Mariano said one idea would be to use some of the money to improve county utilities. Other ideas include improvements along U.S. 19 and getting people off septic systems, he said.

The county estimated it lost $8 million in lost revenue after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded on April 20, 2010, spewing an estimated 172 million gallons of crude oil into the gulf. The county had asked for $35 million from the oil company, Young said, as officials estimated future losses at nearly $27 million.

The funds the county will collect from BP are separate from money it has been awarded as part of the federal Restore Act. The commission has already earmarked those funds to revitalize the Port Richey waterfront, restore Orange Lake in downtown New Port Richey and add public restrooms to SunWest Park in Aripeka, at a cost of nearly $1 million.

The project ranked highest by the Pasco County Restore Act Advisory Committee, on which Mariano serves, is a $30 million coastal environmental research network involving the Pasco School District, the Economic Development Council and academia across the state. Components include a $2 million renovation of the district's Energy and Marine Center, $2 million for workforce training at an environmental academy at Anclote High School, a $1 million welcome center at Werner Boyce Salt Springs State Park and two separate research institutes totaling $20 million.

''We'll take it a little piece at a time,'' said Rob Aguis, principal at Marchman Technical College, who is coordinating the effort for the school district, "We're not sure what's available, but we'll make the most of what is.''

Other projects presented to the advisory committee were the SunWest Park in Aripeka, including dredging a channel to the Gulf of Mexico for which the county and a private landowner have been unable to acquire federal permits; developing artificial reefs, and completing multiple utilities and storm water improvement projects.

Pasco County Tax Collector Mike Fasano's office has also claimed damages as a result of the oil spill, said Clarke Hobby, an attorney representing the tax collector. The $12 million claim alleges the office lost revenue, partially because of fewer applications for fishing and hunting licenses, Hobby said.

The Tax Collector's Office has not yet received a settlement offer from BP.

Staff writer C.T. Bowen contributed to this report. Contact Josh Solomon at (813) 226-3446 or Follow @josh_solomon15.