Jackson County cities will take BP to court

JACKSON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - Saying their backs are against the wall, elected officials from the four cities in Jackson County announced their intention Thursday to sue oil giant BP over last summer's oil spill. This comes after months of negotiations between the cities and the company fell apart last month.

At issue is the company's decision to withdraw from talks that would have funded $50 million in waterfront improvement projects in Moss Point, Ocean Springs, Pascagoula, and Gautier. The projects include boat launches, new piers, beach replenishment programs, and the purchase of beachfront properties for public use.

Moss Point Mayor Aniece Liddell said that withdrawal led to the decision to sue.

"It sounds like the next step is going to be a lawsuit, and they're going to come back to us and tell us what that entails," Liddell said.

Last summer's oil spill hurt each city economically.  Beaches were soiled, and vacations and fishing trips were canceled by the spill. The talks that fell apart have left bitter feelings for Ocean Springs Mayor Connie Moran.

"We're outraged that BP is not keeping their promise," Moran said.  "They are talking out of both sides of the mouth. They've been on TV [saying], 'We're going to make this right.' And they slam the door in our face after encouraging us for successful negotiations, encouraging each city to submit projects, which we spent a lot of time, money and resources in order to present these projects to them. And now they're just saying, oops, never mind."

Obviously, thousands of governments, cities, and businesses have sued BP over this gigantic oil spill. So the question remains, will this suit get lost in the shuffle?

Robert Wilkinson is the attorney for the cities.

"I think that fact that we have all four cities together and I would anticipate that the other cities on the coast, as I mentioned, we've been working behind the scenes with their attorneys, all together, we'll be heard," Wilkinson said. "I'm not fearful of that, we will get out our message and our suit will go forward."

While no exact dollar amount has been determined for the lawsuit against BP, it will be at least $50 million, plus attorney fees. That was the total value of the dozens of waterfront projects in each city that have now been canceled.

WLOX News contacted BP officials on the coast for reaction.  They told us it is company policy not to comment on pending or current litigation.

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