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The Nation

April 11, 2011

AP IMPACT: BP buys Gulf Coast millions in gear

NEW ORLEANS — In the year since the Gulf oil spill, officials along the coast have gone on a spending spree with BP money, dropping tens of millions of dollars on gadgets, vehicles and gear — much of which had little to do with the cleanup, an Associated Press investigation shows.

The oil giant opened its checkbook while the crisis was still unfolding last spring and poured hundreds of millions of dollars into Gulf Coast communities with few strings attached.

In sleepy Ocean Springs, Miss., reserve police officers got Tasers. The sewer department in nearby Gulfport bought a $300,000 vacuum truck that never sucked up a drop of oil. Biloxi, Miss., bought a dozen SUVS. A parish president in Louisiana got herself a top-of-the-line iPad, her spokesman a $3,100 laptop. And a county in Florida spent $560,000 on rock concerts to promote its oil-free beaches.

In every case, communities said the new, more powerful equipment was needed to deal at least indirectly with the spill.

In many cases, though, the connection between the spill and the expenditures was remote, and lots of money wound up in cities and towns little touched by the goo that washed up on shore, the AP found in records requested from more than 150 communities and dozens of interviews.

Florida's tourism agency sent chunks of a $32 million BP grant as far away as Miami-Dade and Broward counties on the state's east coast, which never saw oil from the disaster.

Some officials also lavished campaign donors and others with lucrative contracts. A Florida county commissioner's girlfriend, for instance, opened up a public relations firm a few weeks after the spill and soon landed more than $14,000 of the tiny county's $236,000 cut of BP cash for a month's work.

The April 20 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 workers and spawned the nation's worst offshore oil spill. As BP spent months trying to cap the well and contain the spill, cities and towns along the coast from Louisiana to Florida worried about the toll on their economies — primarily tourism and the fishing industry — as well as the environmental impact.

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