By Russ Henderson

FAIRHOPE, Ala. -- Frustrated by BP PLC's failure to do booming work it had promised, the City Council voted Friday morning to spend $625,575 to deploy two layers of boom in Mobile Bay from the Fairhope Yacht Club to the Grand Hotel Marriott Resort & Spa in Point Clear.

BP officials promised a month ago to deploy boom in the same areas at its own expense but has not done so, city officials said.

The money the city now will use for the project was part of the $25 million that BP gave to the state of Alabama last month. Fairhope received $650,000 when the state divided that money among city and county governments.

"Originally, I only got the $650,000 as a reserve, just in case we needed it for extra protection or cleanup, but now we've had to use it instead to do what BP promised to do," Mayor Tim Kant said after Friday's 9 a.m. emergency meeting.

The council voted unanimously to award the no-bid contract to Pittman Tractor Co., which is owned by state Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Montrose. Pittman's company has been the city's emergency contractor for more than a decade, according to records. The plan is to deploy two layers of protection -- 22,000 linear feet of containment boom and 25,000 linear feet of absorbent boom.

Assistant Public Works Director Ken Eslava said Friday afternoon that the contractor began deploying boom immediately after that morning's council meeting, and by late afternoon about 1,500 feet had been deployed. He estimated that the entire job would take two weeks to complete.

Though she voted in favor of the measure, Councilwoman Debbie Quinn expressed "reservations" that much of the booming strategy described by Eslava lay south of Fairhope's corporate limits. City Attorney Marion "Tut" Wynne said he was concerned about "using public funds in a way that seems to benefit a private entity" -- that is, the Grand Hotel.

Councilman Mike Ford said it could be argued that the boom isn't for the hotel but for the protection of the city's shore.

"The farther south we put the boom, the more protected we are," Ford said.

"That's a good point, Mr. Ford. There is a public benefit," Wynne said.

The council also voted Friday to retain the Mobile law firm of Cunningham, Bounds, Yance, Crowder & Brown for a possible future lawsuit against BP. The retainer was made on a contingency basis, at no cost to the city.

Before the vote, Quinn said that retaining the firm would be "putting the cart before the horse" since the city had not been environmentally impacted yet. Quinn also said she was concerned that, by hiring a law firm, the city's future communications with BP would be stifled or cut off altogether by legal worries.

Kant said the city has already been economically impacted because tourists are choosing not to visit the Gulf Coast due to the oil spill.

"We're probably going to have an economic claim, not an environmental claim," Kant said. "It would be great to go through the claims process and do it the way BP wants us to, but they're not showing a track record" of resolving claims quickly, he said.
Councilman Rick Kingrea said he "couldn't disagree more" with Quinn that hiring a law firm would damage communications with BP.

"Hiring a lawyer and filing a lawsuit are two completely different things," said Kingrea, who is himself a defense attorney.

The measure passed 3-1, with only Quinn voting against it. Councilman Dan Stankoski was absent.

Efforts to contact BP officials Friday were unsuccessful.