Commissioners on Tuesday agreed Lee County lost $70 million in revenue as a result of the 2010 BP Oil spill.
Acting County Attorney Andrea Fraser told commissioners they had to immediately approve the number for a lawsuit the county filed against the oil company through a contracted law firm. Other Gulf Coast governments also have filed claims against BP Oil.
"It is fairly overwhelming" the dollar figure, Fraser said. "We just got this information yesterday, and they're requiring we respond today so we're moving pretty quickly."
Fraser agreed to meet with commissioners at a later date and examine how an outside accountant arrived at the $70 million figure.
While sludge from the BP never reached the shores of Southwest Florida, the perception it polluted beaches deterred tourists and potential property owners, according to county officials.
A document complied by an outside accounting firm working on the lawsuit for Lee County's contracted lawyer, lists $49.9 million as the "estimated loss" to taxes, fines and other county revenue sources.
That number does not include property taxes the county allegedly missed out on, according to documents created by Saltmarsh, Cleaveland & Gund, a certified public accounting firm working on the lawsuit
Lee County's property tax revenues fell by $4.1 million because of the spill, according to calculations performed by Saltmarsh, Cleaveland & Gund, a certified public accounting firm working on the lawsuit.
The accounting firm attributed half of all lost property tax revenues from 2010 to 2011 to the BP, according to calculations disclosed in a Jan. 9 letter.
Property Appraiser Ken Wilkinson said property taxes in Lee County were in a steady decline before the spill and fell off more dramatically in its wake.
"If I were hired in private industry, I don't know how I would substantiate that, but they had to come up with something and at least they didn't attribute it all to BP," Wilkinson said.
In response to the spill, Lee County immediately spent $669,000 on emergency advertising to reassure tourists beaches here were unharmed, said Tamara Pigott, Lee County's director of the visitor and convention bureau.
The Clerk of Court calculated Lee lost $836,000 in tourists taxes that would have been collected on hotel rooms and vacation rentals if the spill didn't happen, Pigott said.
Those losses, she said, only represent a small fraction of the dollars that weren't spent in Lee County, because tourists were deterred from visiting the area.
Gas taxes and other dollars tourists would have otherwise spent in Lee County also were lost, she said.
Local hotels received a payout from BP and, Pigott said, Lee County should have also received a check.
"If it had been handled correctly, any claim for lost sales from hoteliers, the bed tax should have been added, the gas tax should have been added, and a check should have been sent to the county or state," Pigott said.
Additionally, the failure to promptly pay that money, Pigott said, prevented the county from spending it on marketing in the competition for tourists, she said.
Ford & Edison Winter Estates received a check for nearly $250,000 from BP, said the organization's president and CEO, Chris Pendleton.
Staff at the historic landmark tracks daily attendance, which almost immediately dropped off, she said.
The perception all of Florida had somehow been contaminated by the spill lasted for almost a year, as out-of-state tourists typically plan their trips months in advance, Pendleton said.
"In the summer months, we do have a lot of European visitors," Pendleton said. "The perception certainly was we had issues on our beaches and waterways, but we certainly didn't. "
Pendleton said that tourism and attendance numbers have recovered in the years since the spill.
Florida had sent Lee County $500,000 that was received under an agreement with BP, Pigott said.
The company, however, refused to reimburse Lee for the $669,000 it spent on advertising to dispel fears that oil sludge reached shores here, Pigott said.
Commissioner Frank Mann recalled the snub before he agreed to vote in favor of the $70 million claim.
"Based on that year's tourism, it seems critically important that we did expend that," Mann said. "And then to get our nose thumbed at, I have no love in my heart right now for BP."