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BP Oil Spill Settlement Finalized

Photo via Flickr// Green Fire Productions

A federal judge in New Orleans has granted final approval to an estimated $20 billion settlement, resolving years of litigation over the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier's order was released Monday, six years to the month when Deepwater Horizon exploded, killing 11 workers and spewing 134 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Escambia County Commission Chairman Grover Robinson says it’s been a long time coming.

“It has indeed, it has indeed,” said Robinson. “We certainly had a pretty good feeling [of] what we thought was going to happen when the settlement was reached, and so this just confirms it.”

The settlement, first announced last July, includes $5.5 billion in civil Clean Water Act penalties, and billions more for other claims by the five Gulf States and local governments. The money, including $69 million for Escambia County, is to be paid out over a 16-year period.

“Some of the things like, the money that’s going to the State of Florida, will even be longer: 18 years,” said Robinson. “But overall, at least we know when it’s going to be coming and we know how it’s going to be coming. Now it will really be up to us to be strategic about how we use it.”

Robinson, who also chairs the Florida Gulf Consortium for the RESTORE Act, says they’re looking at how to leverage the money coming in to fund the 124 projects approved by the local RESTORE Act Advisory Committee.

“Really, the biggest thing is, I don’t want to just think of it in terms of $69 million,” Robinson said. “We need to find ways to leverage that money so that it’s more like $250 million. That allows us to do more of those projects that are on that list.”

The projects must be approved by the County Commission, and then submitted to the Department of Treasury for a final thumbs-up.

“Everything has been leading up to this point. It really does give us an opportunity to step back, and look at what we’ve accomplished and the task that we still have in front of us,” said Lane Lynchard, Santa Rosa Commission Chairman and a member of the local RESTORE Council.

Santa Rosa is getting almost $30 million, and has submitted its first projects to Treasury, which may be ready to begin later this year. Santa Rosa has also begun leveraging its share of the funding – which is expected to continue in myriad forms over the next few years.

“Whether it’s through federal or state grants, or money coming to the table from whoever the project applicant is,” Lynchard said. “You’ll see at the end of this process, the $29 million will turn into much, much more when it’s all said and done.”

For Escambia County Commission Chairman Grover Robinson, it’s come full circle – he was also chairman when the oil spill occurred. He was asked about lessons learned over the past half-dozen years.

“One thing I have learned about dealing with the federal process is patience,” Robinson said. “Not just myself but really Escambia County has made some inroads, both at the state and federal levels with some of our agencies in working to find those projects.”

The Escambia County RESTORE Act Advisory Committee will present its project rankings, one through 124, to the Commission Thursday evening. Afterward, the Commission will vote to disband the committee.