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BP settlement is ‘Christmas in July’ for Coast cities, counties, schools and attorneys

Federal District Judge Carl Barbier on Monday approved BP’s $1 billion settlement with cities, counties and school districts and ordered that all payments be made within 30 days.

Sun Herald (MS)  / “It’s Christmas in July,” said Alan Dedeaux, superintendent of Hancock County School District, which will receive $500,000. The district hasn’t yet decided how to spend the money, but Dedeaux said the schools have needs and he and the school board are looking at the best way to use the half million dollars.

Hancock County School District gets to keep its entire settlement. Gary Yarborough, attorney for Hancock County, said he and the other attorneys who worked on the settlements waived their fees for the school district, along with the county and the Bay-Waveland District.

Other school districts and municipalities will turn over up to one-quarter of their settlements, under contracts they signed with attorneys in 2012.
Jackson County and its four cities and four school districts will collect about $12 million — more than one-third of the total settlements for South Mississippi. All were represented by the law firm of Dogan & Wilkinson.

Attorney fees for Jackson County are 20 percent of the settlement, said Robert Wilkinson, partner in Dogan and Wilkinson. Fees for the cities and school districts are 25 percent with a more complicated formula for the Jackson County School District.

That results in payments of about $3 million for the firm, but Wilkinson said it represents “5 years of work and $100,000 of fees” and will be split between seven other attorneys who worked on the cases.

He said local officials are pleased with the settlements. “None of our clients have said the first word about fees,” Wilkinson said.
And their work isn’t done. Settlements are still being kicked around with Haliburton and TransOcean over the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, he said. U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier, who presided over the BP settlements, also will oversee these claims.

Settlement fees

In the settlement, BP agreed to pay $18.7 billion to the federal government, the five Gulf states and about 500 local governments and school districts for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

All 500 of the entities got a proposed settlement, said Tom Young with The Law office of Thomas L. Young PA in Tampa, Fla. Cities near the beach generally received more, he said, and the settlements ranged from about $200,000 to $50 million.

He believes the fees the municipalities will pay are justified and lower than the standard 33 percent fees for contingency cases.

“This was high-risk litigation that was high cost,” he said. The law firms took the risk and fronted the expenses for 3-5 years.

“We didn’t know BP would settle,” he said. Cases against Exxon Valdez just wrapped up last year, he said, 25 years after the oil spill in Alaska.

Attorney Tim Holleman, whose firm represented Harrison County, said the firm’s standard contingency contract is one-third.

“We lowered our fees,” he said, The contract with the county was for 20 percent, which included expenses.

“We did a damned good job,” he said of the attorneys involved in the settlement.

While other Coast cities were announcing their settlements this month, Waveland previously settled with BP for about $265,000 and new Mayor Mike Smith said, “We have no piers, harbors or casinos.” He’s hoping to get a share of the state’s BP settlement money for restoration.

“There are some areas in the marsh we could use help with,” he said.

The settlement included:
– $183 million over 15 years for environmental restoration.
– $582 million over 15 years for environmental projects, research and economic development.
– $750 million over 17 years for economic damages, with the funds under the control of the state Legislature.

The grinch
Dimming South Mississippi’s “Christmas in July” glow from the BP settlement are calls for the gift to be shared throughout the state.
Already $400 million is being eyed for a new sewage system for the city of Jackson and for the oil spill settlement to be directed to Mississippi schools.

“I’m sure that there will be some spent in other places,” said State Sen. Philip Moran, R-Kiln, But he and other Coast legislatures are fighting against that. “I’m of the belief that the money really should be spent in the bottom three counties,” he said.

Rep. Scott DeLano, R-Biloxi, said the Coast delegation is working with leadership in the House, Senate and with the governor’s office to dedicate the $750 million to bringing a bigger return for the Coast.

For instance, he said if $80 million in federal highway money were available for the Popp’s Ferry Bridge, the local match might be $20 million. The improvements would be a life-safety issue to help with evacuation and allow more maritime traffic to pass to the Industrial seaway, creating an economic development opportunity. “To me that’s a good investment,” he said.

The $750 million is just economic damages, he said. “$1.5 billion will be spent on restoring and rejuvenating our ecosystems and our environment down here.”
Proposed projects are expensive and DeLano said, “We could spend this money very quickly. I want to make sure that we just spend that money wisely.”
People are going to be watching how Mississippi and the other states use the money — “and they should,” DeLano said. “You’d better believe we’re going to have some accountability measures put in place.”

The money also will create jobs. Said DeLano: “We want these to be local jobs and this money to be turned over within the Coastal economy,”

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