Naples deep-sixes plans to collect BP money from Gulf oil spill

This April 21, 2010, file photo show the Deepwater Horizon oil rig burning after an explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, off the southeast tip of Louisiana. BP, the oil giant at the center of one of the world's biggest environmental crises, is making strong profits again, its stock has largely rebounded, and it is paying dividends to shareholders once more. It is also pursuing new ventures from the Arctic to India. It is even angling to explore again in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico, where it holds more leases than any competitor.

AP Photo/ Gerald Herbert, File

This April 21, 2010, file photo show the Deepwater Horizon oil rig burning after an explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, off the southeast tip of Louisiana. BP, the oil giant at the center of one of the world's biggest environmental crises, is making strong profits again, its stock has largely rebounded, and it is paying dividends to shareholders once more. It is also pursuing new ventures from the Arctic to India. It is even angling to explore again in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico, where it holds more leases than any competitor.

After the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the northern Gulf of Mexico in April 2010, Southwest Florida watched and waited to see whether winds and waves would bring the disaster to its shores.

They didn’t. Scenes of oil slicked birds and tar balls buried in the beach did not play out in Collier or Lee counties, but that has not stopped cities and counties from angling for a piece of the BP claims pie.

A picture is emerging of the potential claims Southwest Florida governments have for lost revenues stemming from the spill’s bad publicity keeping tourists away,

“It’s almost like a forensic economics exercise,” said Assistant County Attorney Jeff Wright.

One city, though, is staying out of the claims fray.

Naples City Council voted unanimously Wednesday to snub a law firm that had estimated the city’s BP payout at $2.4 million and had proposed to file a claim on the city’s behalf.

Bonita Springs leaders took a different tack Wednesday, voting to hire an accountant to go through the city’s books to put a number on a possible claim.

Collier County has an estimated $24 million claim stemming from the oil spill, according to a January letter from accountants calculating the claim for lawyers the county agreed to hire last May.

Instead of hiring a law firm to count its monetary damages, the Naples City Council decided to count something else Wednesday.

“Maybe we should count our blessings that this community wasn’t impacted to any great extent in the summer of 2010,” Councilwoman Dee Sulick.

An estimate of the city’s damages included declines in revenues from everything from permit fees to fees to play tennis at the city’s courts.

Naples firm Holmes Kurnick had proposed charging the city 10 percent of whatever was recovered, and charging nothing if the city got nothing. It wasn’t enough to convince council members it was worth the effort.

“I do have to say I’m not all that optimistic,” City Attorney Bob Pritt said.

Naples already received a $20,000 reimbursement for buying oil containment boom and coordinating with Florida officials on a response, but a claim for lost revenue — calculated at $366,000 in the latest claim — at the City Dock was denied.

BP also has approved a $1.3 million grant to be divided among the cities of Marco Island and Naples and Collier County to build a new system of artificial fishing reefs offshore.

Collier County already has filed a claim for $450,000 in lost tourist tax revenues for the months of July through September 2010.

The January estimate of a $24 million damage claim could go even higher if the county decides to account for future lost revenues, the letter states. An earlier estimate put the county’s damages as high as $35 million.

The latest damages estimate includes $6.2 million in lost property tax value between 2010 and 2011, or about 50 percent of the total drop in taxable value that year.

Bonita Springs City Attorney Audrey Vance said Wednesday that the city has “no clue” what it might ask BP to pony up for damages.

“It could be at the end of the day, we really don’t have anything,” Vance said.

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