Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis is floating the possibility of using money from a settlement over the 2010 BP Oil Spill as leverage to help North Florida recover from one of the strongest Hurricanes in a generation. The discussion comes as the region faces a recovery that could take a decade or more.
In 2010, an oil rig owned by BP exploded off the coast of Louisiana, sparking one of the worst oil spills in U.S. History. The fallout touched tourism dependent areas as fear of potential calamity drove tourists to cancel reservations. Florida lifted limits on oyster and fishing harvests, leading to problems for coastal communities continuing to this day. Florida sued BP, and received a $300 millionsettlement. The money is meant to help with economic recovery projects in eight North Florida counties impacted by the spill. But now, the state of Florida is eying the fund for another purpose: aiding recovery efforts from Hurricane Michael.
“Let that money serve as a loan backstop. I’m not asking Triumph to spend their money. I don’t think they should pay for debris removal, that’s FEMA’s job," says Florida Cheif Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis.
FEMA is the federal emergency management Agency and Triumph is the entity set up to manage the BP Oil settlement. Patronis says Triumph’s money is held by the state and is gathering interest. He thinks the dollars can be used to help cash-strapped and hurricane-damaged counties get loans until more federal and state aid arrives.
“What I think Triumph can do, is tell those eligible city and county's, hey, if you're in the eleigible footprint and you need to borrow money...we'll co-sign on the loan. because the struggles they’ll have is 1-2 years.”
“It’s time for all hands to be on deck and each of us has to do our part," says Former state Senate President Don Gaetz. He's a North Florida resident, and presently heads the Triumph Gulf Coast Consortium, which controls the $300 million in BP settlement money.
“We’re looking for ways to stretch the impact of Triumph dollars to make sure we can help communities that have been doubly-affected by two disasters get back on their feet,” he says.
A recent editorial in the Panama City News Herald argues against oil spill money for hurricane recovery, but Gaetz says there are places--such as economic development--where the fund could pitch in. Eight Northwest Florida counties were impacted by the oil spill. Half of those were also hit by Hurricane Michael.
Among them, Bay County—where Michael made direct landfall on Mexico Beach.
"Every year I learn of some new funding source or tax credit. There’s always something new coming out," says Tallahassee-based consultant Darryl Cox.
He recently told a group of area business owners and residents it usually takes between 10 and 15 years for economic recovery to occur after a natural disaster. But Bay County Chamber of Commerce Chairman Will Cramer says local officials and residents want it to happen faster.
“For our purposes, we’re going to come up with ideas that deal with recovery and growing our economy. We’ll kick that up to the task force and they’ll go from there.”
Cox and Cramer say the recovery timeline can shrink—if there’s a plan to tap into billions in recovery aid offered through public and private resources. But there has to be a plan. Bay County recently launched the Economic Recovery arm of its long-term recovery task force. It’s has given itself 6 more weeks to come up with a plan that touches on housing, the economy, health and human services and cultural and natural resources.