By DOTTY NIST
An agreement has been approved to settle claims of Walton County and the Walton County Tourist Development Council (TDC) in connection with BP’s April 20, 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
These were claims related to the county and TDC’s economic loss resulting from the disaster. Both Walton County and the TDC had experienced a decline in tax revenue following the incident, even though direct impact of oil on the county’s coastline was light as compared with many other areas of the Gulf Coast.
Walton County had joined with a number of other local governments in the litigation.
On Feb. 11, almost four years after the disaster, the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) voted to accept an offer to settle the loss of revenue claims for a $9.87 million total payment by BP. The commissioners’ vote took place at the outset of their regular meeting on that date at the South Walton Annex.
District 5 Commissioner Cindy Meadows’ motion to approve the settlement carried in a 3-2 vote, with County Commission Chairman Bill Chapman and District 3 Commissioner Bill Imfeld voting no.
The agreement calls for $4.5 million of the total payment to go to the county and $5.37 million to go to the TDC.
Among BP’s conditions for settling the claims were that both the county portion and the TDC portion were agreed to, as opposed one part of the offer being accepted and the other not agreed to.
The agreement provides for BP and “anyone who is or could be responsible or liable in any way for the Incident or damages related thereto…” to be released from loss of revenue claims by the county or the TDC related to the incident. A lengthy list of released parties was made part of the agreement, but it is noted that released parties are not limited to those listed.
BP does not admit to any wrongdoing in connection with the settlement.
Acceptance of the settlement does not affect funds coming to the county through the NRDA program or the RESTORE Act.
BP had made a previous offer to Walton County to settle the lawsuit in April 2013. At that time, the same amount, $5.37 million, had been proposed to compensate for the TDC’s losses. The 5.37 million offer to the TDC was proposed to compensate for bed tax losses incurred from 2011 forward. A $2.4 million partial settlement had been accepted in April 2011 for the TDC in connection with tax losses incurred in 2010.
BP had also made an accompanying offer in April 2013 in connection with the county’s losses, but that amount had not been publicly stated.
The BCC’s response at that time had been to counter offer for acceptance of the TDC portion only. The commissioners had also authorized further litigation against BP in connection with the county’s losses—and those of the TDC if the counter offer was not accepted. BP had not agreed to the counter offer.
In the approved settlement, the net amount for the payment to the TDC will be slightly less than $4.3 million, as Walton County has agreed to provide total fees of $1.074 million to attorneys representing the local governments from that payment, along with reimbursing the legal firm of Nix, Patterson and Roach in the amount of approximately $15,000 for prosecution-related costs.
A distribution statement approved by the county provides for the following legal firms to be paid fees from the $1.074 million: Nix, Patterson & Roach (62.5 percent); Harrison Rivard (10 percent); Harrison Sale (10 percent); Adkinson Law Firm (10 percent); and Fowler White (7.5 percent). However, the total amount going to these firms is to be reduced by a total of $322,000, with those funds to go into a court-supervised escrow account per the order of United States District Judge Carl Barbier. It is anticipated that the attorneys will seek to obtain the remainder of their fees from that account.
By DOTTY NIST