BP oil spill claims meeting leaves many frustrated: ‘I got the same answers I seem to be getting every time’


ORANGE BEACH, Alabama — Nearly 150 people came to the Orange Beach Community Center on Friday to get answers about unpaid oil spill claims, but many said they left just as irritated as they were before they came.

“I got the same answers I seem to be getting every time,” said Terry Hanners, who said he’s received checks that cover only about half the lost beach rental revenue he has claimed. “It’s frustrating.”

BP PLC has another claims meeting scheduled for 9 a.m. today at the Bayou La Batre Community Center, 12745 Padgett Switch Road.

The company is preparing to hand over claims payments to an independent operation overseen by Ken Feinberg, who handled the victim compensation fund for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Kris Sliger, BP’s deputy incident commander in the Mobile area, said Feinberg would take over in mid- to late August.

Feinberg told the Press-Register two weeks ago that he would have been able to take over as early as Friday, but that he had no money to work with.

BP has agreed to put $20 billion over a four-year period into a fund to pay for oil spill damages, including claims, but the company has not made the first deposit yet.

Sliger said he didn’t know when the deposit would be made, but he said Feinberg would have access to all the money he needs when he takes over.

Feinberg will operate under different rules than BP has, Sliger said.

For example, one woman asked Sliger whether BP would pay for a loss in property value for her home. Sliger told her that she would have to sell the property first. Then BP would get an appraiser to set a pre-spill value, and would pay the difference.

Feinberg told the Press-Register in July that he would “do something” for property owners even if they don’t sell, although he didn’t specify what he would do. If he forces people to sell to get a claim, that will give people an incentive to sell for a loss, further diminishing beach property values, he said.

Until Feinberg takes over, BP is continuing to pay claims, Sliger said, which is why the company invited people to ask questions Friday. After an hourlong town hall meeting, about a dozen BP claims adjusters met one-on-one with residents and business owners.

The meeting was dominated by people who complained that their adjusters are constantly delaying writing checks by asking for more paperwork.

John Daversa said cancellations at the condo he rents out equal about $27,000 for the year, but BP has only paid him $1,250 so far.

“Every meeting has started with someone saying, ‘Today you’re going home with a check,'” said Daversa. “And they all end with, ‘We just need one more document.’

“Now there’s a real trust issue,” he said. “Now, frankly, I don’t believe in this whole process.”

Sliger said BP would not pay for canceled reservations in the future, because other people might come in and rent them and mitigate the losses.

Feinberg has said he will give people emergency payments equal to six months of lost revenue.

BP started the claims process shortly after an April 20 explosion destroyed the Deepwater Horizon rig, killing 11 workers and leading to the discharge of about 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

BP owns the majority stake in the leaking well, and has been tabbed as the responsible party for the spill.

As of Friday, BP officials said the company has paid $308.9 million in claims, including $69.6 million in Alabama.

Baldwin and Mobile counties are the top two recipients of BP money, at $35.2 million and $28.4 million, respectively.

Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon said his city government has billed BP for $2.5 million, but so far has only received $108,000. He called Friday’s claims session a “propaganda meeting.”

“No matter what you see on TV or see in the newspaper ads, they are not paying claims,” Kennon said. “It’s a joke.”

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
Cooper Law Firm

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