For us it’s the sea otters that Exxon didn’t want in the news. For you, it’s the dolphins. —Riki Ott, Marine Toxicologist

+ Ott has traveled to Florida at her own expense to put on a series of workshops to talk about her experience as a community activist in the wake of the Exxon Valdez. She warns that adjusting property values may not help with the claims process (more after the jump).

+ A looming tropical depression has mostly halted cleanup efforts and may stall the progress of the relief well.

+ A Washington Post investigation reveals that roughly three out of four oil lobbyists once worked for the federal government.

+ As the oil drifts farther away from Pensacola, hotels remain empty, and they’re devising new marketing efforts to attract visitors.

+ BP appears to be betting on more deep-water drilling in the future.

+ The Obamas are coming for the weekend on Aug. 14.

Crist’s executive order: Will it help?
Gov. Charlie Crist has signed an executive order that could help property owners make claims for lost real estate values.

State law requires property owners to pay taxes based on the value of their property in January. But in many cases — particularly for hotels and businesses dependent on the beach — their property values have dropped as much as 30 percent since then.

“It appears what the governor has done is have the property appraisers provide some professional assistance to the folks that are impacted by giving them some kind of damage number that they could then take to BP and say they’ve lost money,” said Chris Jones, the Escambia County property appraiser.

Ott warns that in the wake of the Exxon Valdez, the company won a court battle that protected it from claims for the declining value of things like fishing licenses, on the grounds that their value could ultimately recover (though the recover could take years and debt payments were due in the meantime). For fishermen to be eligible for damages, the losses had to be “realized” in a sale, and simply documenting the declining value wasn’t enough. She fears the same could apply to Florida real estate. This resembles a point made by the state’s association of property appraisers, as reported by the Orlando Sentinel:

The Property Association of Florida, however, unanimously agreed that approach “would not be an appropriate administrative mechanism for property tax relief due to the oil spill,” the association said in a letter dated Monday to House Speaker Larry Cretul and Senate President Jeff Atwater. The association represents most of the state’s property appraisers.

A mid-year assessment would be “inherently arbitrary,” the association said, because there will be few, if any, comparable sales to judge how much home values have fallen since the oil spill. And property appraisers won’t have sufficient staff to conduct mid-year assessments, the letter added.

Still, the Sentinel notes that Crist took action at the behest of three panhandle property appraisers, who wanted a chance to account for the losses, which otherwise wouldn’t be reflected till next year.

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