By: Connie Baggett

BAY MINETTE, Alabama — Baldwin County Board of Education members have hired Mobile law firm Cunningham Bounds to pursue collection of a $4.4 million claim for lost revenue against BP PLC as a result of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

“We can’t lose,” said board member Robert Wills, who is an attorney.

The board selected Cunningham Bounds after hearing presentations from the Mobile firm and from the Beasley Allen Firm of Montgomery.

School system spokesman Terry Wilhite said no fee had been set for the work.

Orange Beach City Council hired the same firm last month to pursue its claims if negotiations with the oil company don’t progress. Any time the city requests assistance from the attorneys, the law firm would receive 15 percent of a claim payment, and that cut would jump to 25 percent if a legal proceeding occurs, according to the proposed deal. The firm would not receive any money for claims already paid.

School board officials filed a $4.4 million claim with BP weeks ago seeking lost revenue from the months tourism was adversely impacted by the oil spill. The figure came from calculations conducted by Keivan Deravi, an expert in revenue forecasting with Auburn University at Montgomery.

“Obviously we are pleased to be selected and look forward to pursuing the responsible parties to be sure the school board recovers its losses,” said Stephen L. Nicholas, an attorney with Cunningham Bounds. “Our next step will be a complete evaluation of what the board has already done to determine its losses and work with BP to recover that amount.”

The system was already mired in a financial crisis when the oil rig exploded April 20, spilling an estimated 172 million gallons of light crude into the Gulf of Mexico. The slick eventually made its way onto beaches and marshlands along the coast, killing wildlife and Alabama’s lucrative tourism industry for most of the peak season. Many local officials had projected tourism would rebound from down years during the economic downturn before the spill.