In addition to hoping that we avoid a hurricane this season despite expert predictions to the contrary, we are also all hoping to avoid direct impact from the BP Oil Spill. However, it is becoming readily apparent that each of our communities have already been impacted by this disaster in the Gulf in terms of the following:
• The ability to obtain reasonable insurance coverage. When it comes time to renew our insurance coverage, we are undoubtedly in for a rude awakening.
• The ability to obtain financing in our communities. Lenders are already viewing properties along the coast and close to them with greater scrutiny.
• The ability to sell property. Sales contracts for waterfront properties are already being drafted to include “oil spill contingency” clauses to enable purchasers to back out with the return of their deposits should a certain percentage of oil or tar balls be present up to the day of closing.
• The diminution of our property value. The value of beachfront communities (regardless if you run a rental pool or not) derives in large part from the robust nature of our tourism. Impact tourism and you’ve impacted property value. Remove the ability to obtain reasonable and adequate insurance and you’ve negatively impacted property value. Narrow the pool of potential purchasers and potential lenders for our communities and you’ve further impacted property value.
• In addition to these areas that have already impacted our communities’ collective value, there is the likelihood for months or years to come for this oil to reach our shores, our Intracoastal and our other waterways with the attendant pollution impact and clean-up costs.
Being proactive always affords the best chance of recovering from any disaster. Here is a Plan of Action that your community may wish to consider :
1. Be Observant. Follow the news reports in your area and become knowledgeable about the likelihood of oil impact in your neighborhood and community. In addition, stay active in your neighborhoods: What are your neighbors observing? What are they talking about? It is imperative to not only learn of your community’s concerns but also to be ready to act.
If oil, in any form, is seen in or near your neighborhood, it is advisable that you contact the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (888-337-3569). Their Oil Response website can be viewed at: www.dep.state.fl.us/deepwaterhorizon. In addition, more information can be found at www.deepwaterhorizonresponse.com(soon to be www.RestoreTheGulf.com).
The following numbers and sites may also be beneficial for more specific concerns:
• Florida Oil Spill Information Line (FOSIL), available from 8 a.m.-6 p.m EDT daily:
English – (888) 337-3569• For general health/exposures information questions related to the oil spill, contact the Florida Poison Control Center at (800) 222-1222.
Haitian Creole – (877) 955-8707
Spanish – (877) 955-8773
TDD – (800) 955-8771
Voice – (800) 955-8770
• Two public hotline numbers for oil spill investigation and cleanup:
Impacted Wildlife: (866) 557-1401• The Florida Department of State has established a hotline for archeological, historical preservation, and tribal lands that may be impacted by the Deepwater Horizon incident: (850) 245-6530.
Oiled Shoreline: (877) 2-SAVE-FL or #DEP for cellular devices
• Volunteer registration: www.VolunteerFlorida.org and click “Register to Help”
• Health advisories: www.dep.state.fl.us/deepwaterhorizon/health.htm
• State sampling data: www.nrdata.org
• GATOR web mapping application: map.floridadisaster.org/gator/
• NOAA GeoPlatform, response management application: www.geoplatform.gov/gulfresponse/
2. Be First in Line at the Ticket Counter. Despite the fact that BP has already poured $20 billion into a Relief Fund and promised more to come, that stream will run dry eventually. Those people who queued up early will be in a much better position to recover funds than those who waited.
There are several alternatives in pursuing recoveries, including:
• Filing the proper claims and suits. In order to demand payment of damages for the loss of the use of your property, diminished value, property damage and loss of tax base, you will need to file the necessary claims under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA);
• Filing an action in federal court against all responsible parties including BP and Halliburton; and
• Pursuing claims under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA) through the BP Oil Claims process. Although the likelihood of recovery under the OPA fund is minimal, it is necessary in order to preserve your community’s right of recovery under the act. When BP underpays your claim or denies it, your claim will then ripen to allow for recovery in the judicial system.
3. Gather information now which will be needed later to establish damages. This information should include, at a minimum, the following going back at least three years where possible.
• For individuals: bank statements, federal and state tax returns, listings of assets, personal financial statements, relevant insurance policies, evidence of employment, evidence of personal residency, and W-2 statements and 1099s.
• For associations running rental pools, bank statements, federal and state tax returns, listings of assets, monthly and annual financial statements, relevant insurance policies, reservation terminations, loan defaults, special assessments passed and other financial restructuring events including loan defaults or bankruptcy filings and other information after the oil spill on April 20, 2010.
• For all associations, canceled purchase contracts, increased insurance premiums and increased delinquencies from investor-owned and leased units.
• Document the community’s current condition with date stamped video, photographs and where possible, engineering reports. Update such documentation periodically throughout the next 18 months.
4. Volunteer! Organize volunteer committees in your neighborhood and community. Involving your community members will not only speed your preparation efforts but will also help calm fears your residents will undoubtedly have about this disaster’s eventual impact on their homes, families and property values.
For more information, please visit a special website my Firm has created to answer your questions at www.floridaspill.com