BP Protests Continue

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BP Protests Continue

NORTH PALM BEACH, Fla. -- A group of displaced BP and Amoco dealers continued their protest against London-based BP plc in South Florida yesterday, staging their fourth demonstration at the oil company's Florida headquarters in three months.

The dealers claim they had verbally agreed to two four-year extensions with BP once their current leases expired. Instead, they say, they received letters from the company in February informing them that the leases wouldn't be renewed. The leases for eight of the nine stations involved ? located in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties ? expired between Sept. 7 and Oct. 6. The other lease, with Jose Fernandez in Miami-Dade, expired Aug. 12.

In a show of solidarity, the dealers picketed BP's South Florida headquarters twice over the past eight weeks and conducted sit-ins in at least two of the convenience stores. The dealers filed suit against BP in September. The case isn't expected to be heard for at least another month.

Yesterday's protest, however, was smaller than the previous two. Since the campaign against BP began in August, five dealers have lost their stores and stopped fighting the oil company because it was too costly. The four dealers that are continuing to fight BP were joined by two Palm Beach congressional candidates, Jack Merkl and Charles Laurie, along with Fred Mascaro, a candidate for county sheriff.

But the scene has turned ugly for the four remaining operators. BP came in and removed the pumps from the four stores. The pumps were replaced by local suppliers, according to Michele Rosen, a spokesperson for the group. And since BP no longer supplies the sites, BP and Amoco signs are covered over with bags and tape.

"Though many operators have turned over their keys, there are still four who refuse to leave their stations, and are finding other ways to keep their businesses running," said Michele Rosen, a spokeswoman for the group. "While the battle is still being fought in court, the outcome of this war may not be known for sometime. In the meantime, another skirmish is being fought in the streets with demonstrations and protests to get the message out despite an apparent attempt by BP's lawyers to silence [the group] by serving them with subpoenas."

ABOVE: Jack Merkl and former BP dealer John Griveas protest BP in South Florida.