Galveston Park Board OKs BP lawsuit

By Robert Stanton
Houston Chronicle

Citing lost tourism revenues, the Galveston Park Board of Trustees voted Friday to pursue a lawsuit against BP stemming from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster.

Park Board trustees approved filing the lawsuit by a 7-1 vote, with board chairman Dr. Craig Brown opposing the idea.

The vote came on the eve of the third anniversary of the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, which discharged more than 4.5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf over 93 days. The disaster claimed 11 lives.

Earlier this week, the Houston City Council voted in a 10-5 decision to sue BP for more than $23 million in connection with the Gulf spill. The city will seek to recover sales tax and hotel tax revenues lost after the incident prompted the federal government to impose a drilling moratorium in the Gulf of Mexico, harming companies and cutting business travel, City Attorney David Feldman said.

While the impact on Galveston was less severe than in other communities, particularly in Louisiana, the Parks Board decided to follow the City of Galveston’s lead in pursuing a claim against the oil company. The board hired Houston attorney Jimmy Williamson to file the civil litigation.

Williamson & Rusnak was brought on board in May 2012.

The law firm unsuccessfully sought a settlement from BP, which set the stage for Friday’s formal vote to pursue the litigation.

The first tar balls began to wash up on Galveston beaches on July 5, and were cleaned up in relatively short order.

Brown said he opposed the lawsuit because of the lack of data about the lost tourism revenues to the island.

“I did not receive any information that would definitely say that Galveston has suffered a tourist loss due to the BP oil spill,” he said. “There was a downturn on tourism-related taxes, but it (time period) also was associated with one of the wettest seasons on record, which could have resulted in fewer tourists coming to Galveston.”

Brown noted that neither Galveston County officials nor business owners have opted to pursue civil claims against BP relating to the spill.

The Park Board likely would hire an economist to determine just how much lost tourism revenues the island has suffered, he said.

BP spokesman Dean Scott declined to comment Friday about the litigation.

BP earlier said more than 1,200 awards with a total value of more than $400 million have been granted to claimants in the agriculture, construction, professional services, real estate, manufacturing, wholesale trade and retail trade industries.

But it alleged many of the awards were for damages that never occurred.