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BP claim decision should have been Cape Council’s

July 24, 2015
Cape Coral Daily Breeze

In response to queries as to why the city of Cape Coral did not file any claim for lost revenues related to the BP oil spill, some answers have trickled out this week.

"Some," as in scant, being the operative word here.

According to the City Attorney's office, the deadline for government entities to file claims was mid-January, 2013.

This is a different, much earlier deadline than that afforded to private, non-government economic loss or medical claims. That deadline was June 8, 2015.

The City Attorney's office did confirm, after talking to city staff and asking the City Clerk's office to review council minutes, that Cape Coral did not file any claim for revenues lost due to the oil spill following the April 20, 2010, explosion on an oil rig operating in Gulf waters.

Fires raged for three days in the catastrophe that killed 11 workers, injured a number of others, and spilled an estimated 210 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, making it the second worst oil spill disaster to date.

BP has agreed to pay up to $18.7 billion in claims for the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill with five Gulf Coast states, Louisiana, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Texas receiving damages.

According to news accounts, $6.8 billion will go to Louisiana, $3.25 billion will go to Florida, $2.3 billion to Alabama, $2.2 billion to Mississippi while $750 million will go to Texas. Another $5.5 billion will be paid in Clean Water Act penalties.

Claims, or settlement, zones were allocated for the coastlines of these states with the city of Cape Coral falling within Zone C, which runs along the west coast of Florida from the Panhandle down past Naples. Potential compensation is based upon zone, with Zone A being the area of greatest impact and Zone D being the least.

In talking to city staff onboard during the claims period, the City Attorney's office found that there is, apparently, no information to indicate staff believed Cape Coral suffered any economic loss that could be directly related to the oil spill, a requirement for a successful claim.

Further, in discussions this week with administrative staff, the City Attorney's office reports staff remains "unaware of any damages suffered by the City that would have warranted a claim under the BP oil spill claims process."

No analysis report nor any memos as to how staff arrived at that conclusion had been released as of Thursday. The City Attorney's office, however, did find a Jan. 29, 2013, letter sent to the city by the county's legal department that "indicated that once the amount of funding available was decided on, Lee County and the local municipal governments 'would work together on the distribution of funding.'"

This "on another note" refers to RESTORE Act funds, which are for administrative and civil penalties resulting from the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.

"We will keep Council apprised of any developments in this regard," the City Attorney's office advised this week.

Let us point out here that that same letter plainly states that the county's initial $70 million claim did not include any damages incurred by Lee County municipalities.

"This claim is solely based on Lee County Government's calculation of lost revenue which does not include any municipalities possible losses," Deputy County Attorney Andrea R. Fraser's email letter to the city attorneys for Cape Coral, Bonita Springs, Fort Myers, Fort Myers Beach and Sanibel states.

A couple of things.

The city of Cape Coral is not alone in its decision not to file a claim. Neither the Town of Fort Myers Beach nor the city of Fort Myers applied, either, pretty much for the reason cited by city officials - they did not feel their communities had suffered any economic losses.

We'll not comment here on the decisions made by Fort Myers Beach and Fort Myers.

In regard to Cape Coral, however, we would understand its position a whole lot better if there had been a paper trail documenting some concerted effort on the part of staff to quantify the opinion that the city suffered no economic impact - no decrease in gas tax revenues, no decrease in bed tax money, no loss in sales tax revenues, no loss in revenue due to lower attendance at Sun Splash Family Waterpark or Coral Oaks Golf Course.

These are the types of quantified losses - i.e. damages - documented and turned in by Lee County, the Lee County School District and the city of Sanibel, which are to receive $5.24 million, $2.5 million and $460,000, respectively.

And as for keeping council apprised of developments?

By all means, let council - and the public -know if RESTORE funds will be coming the city's way.

But don't hold a hand out in expectation for any share of the county's losses claim if the city's position is Cape Coral incurred none - and knew from the get-go that the county filing did not include the Cape.

That would make even less sense than the decision to not file, apparently made on the staff level, without a researched report and presentation to council, which should have made the final determination.

-Breeze editorial



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