Contractors owed millions for cleanup work after oil spill


Speaking on behalf of small businesses awaiting payment from BP for the Gulf oil spill cleanup, Ricky Myers said he’s got nothing to lose.

“All of the workers you saw on TV combing the beach, sifting oil from the sand, were hired by me and other subcontractors like me,” said Myers, owner of Rhino Construction in Bay St. Louis. “We paid those workers every dime they were owed, yet months later, we’ve only received partial payment for the service we provided.”

Myers spoke Tuesday at a sparsely attended news conference at the state Capitol. Myers said he and some 40 other subcontractors who aided in the oil spill cleanup haven’t been paid a 20 percent retainage fee – an agreed-upon contact price that is held back as assurance for the quality of the work.

“We agreed to the retainage because we were assured the additional money would be paid within 14 days of the work being completed,” he said. “Right now, it’s been five months and counting, and we’ve yet to see a dollar from the retainage.”

Myers said Rhino Construction is owed $650,000. The company hired 650 trained workers last April to pick up tar balls along the Coast, costing $1.4 million in biweekly payroll expenses. Myers estimates at least $80 million in retainage funds have yet to be paid to subcontractors. Another $200 million is owed to subcontractors for services rendered.

“What is sad about the situation is that many of the subcontractors who answered the call after the crisis and had workers ready to lessen the effect of the disaster are the same ones who might go out of business due to the disaster,” Myers said.

He isn’t blaming BP directly for the delayed compensation. BP has assured him it paid O’Brien’s Response Management, which was hired to manage the cleanup. O’Brien’s is responsible for paying the subcontractors. The company has not returned Myers’ phone calls.

“No response,” he said.

Attempts to reach BP and O’Brien’s also were unsuccessful on Tuesday.

BP also has been criticized for delays in paying claims to businesses. A recent report said the $20 billion fund had made only one final payment of the 91,000 people and businesses seeking final settlements.

Myers said he is blessed to have been able sustain his business. Other subcontractors have not been as fortunate.

“There are some hanging on by a shoestring for financial relief,” said Mike Cook, executive president of EMR, an infrastructure and environmental firm based in Lawrence, Kan. He said EMR is owed about $2 million.

EMR sent 320 workers to 55 locations and provided environmental monitoring and booms for oil containment.

Cook said the situation is reminiscent of the struggles small businesses had in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. “We haven’t been told anything.”

Matthew Creel, owner of Creel Excavation in Carriere, is also awaiting payment. As a subcontractor for Rhino Construction, Creel built laydown yards for the equipment used in the cleanup.

Creel could not recall the exact amount owed to his company.

“But it’s a pretty good sum of money,” he said. “It’s put everything behind. As far as your income, you’re not able to pay your bills.”

Myers, who planned to speak to legislators Tuesday, has reached out to Gov. Haley Barbour.

“The governor spoke to BP last week and made known his concerns about the contractors and subcontractors,” said Dan Turner, Barbour’s spokesman. “He wants to make sure they get paid in a timely manner.”

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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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