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BP Trial Date Set, RESTORE Amount Uncertain

Four years after the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico resulting from the Deepwater Horizon explosion, it appears another year will pass before BP learns how much it will owe under the Clean Water Act.

On Monday, U.S. Magistrate Sally Shushan issued a seven-page schedule of hearings, conferences and deadlines, leading up to the January 20 trial date set by presiding Federal Judge Carl Barbier. The schedule also calls for the trial to end on February 5.

Escambia County Commissioner Grover Robinson chairs the Gulf Consortium, which represents 23 Florida Gulf Coast counties earmarked for millions of oil spill-related dollars.

Previous phases of the case dealt with the causes of the 2010 rig explosion – which killed 11 workers -- and an estimated 176 million gallons of crude that spilled into the Gulf. BP attorneys had urged Judge Barbier to set the figure at nearly 103 million.

Robinson says the Consortium deals with “Component Three” of the five overall funding components under the RESTORE Act.

“The local component is the one we deal with directly in Escambia County,” said Robinson. “Each county has its own, direct component. One, there’s the state component, and then there’s the Consortium component and we’ll continue to deal with that. I expect some of those projects will happen in Escambia County.”

In 2012, BP and a committee representing numerous plaintiffs agreed to a settlement resolving most economic and property damage claims. However, a court-appointed administrator's interpretation of that settlement remains in dispute.

Because most of the oil that washed up in Florida did so on Escambia County beaches, Robinson expects the county to be the major player in the Consortium. Meanwhile, he says Escambia is working to identify the projects waiting to be funded by RESTORE dollars.

“Probably the best thing that has happened is that we’ve been doing work with the Nature Conservancy and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection,” Robinson said. “We’ve also been involved with environmental projects that will clean up our waterways.”

Those projects could also get funding from other pots of cash linked to the oil spill, such NRDA – the Natural Resource Damage Assessment – or others – as soon as the Consortium sets up a process to handle and distributing the money – which Robinson calls “treasury regs.”

BP estimates that, since May 2010, it has paid out roughly $11 billion in claims to individuals and businesses over economic losses and damages, plus about $1.5 billion to government.

The company initially estimated the settlement would result in it paying nearly $8 billion in claims. But as it began challenging the business payouts, BP said it could no longer give a reliable cost estimate.