Final oil spill payment plan doesn’t go far enough, say business owners


JACKSON COUNTY, Miss. – Several local business owners say oil spill claims czar Ken Feinberg’s latest final payment plan won’t scratch the surface of what they’ve lost since the April 20 disaster.

The draft plan released Wednesday outlines the methodology that would be used to offer final settlements. The plan assumes that most people and businesses would see losses equal to 70 percent of their 2010 loss in 2011, and 30 percent of their 2010 loss in 2012.

Feinberg said the future loss equation could be recalculated as the Gulf Coast’s economic outlook becomes clearer, and claimants should keep that in mind as they decide whether to take interim payments or pursue final settlements.

Even though final payment offers would be roughly two times the 2010 losses for most claimants, several business owners say that’s not enough.

“There’s no way that I will be back to where I was in just two years,” said Steve Vayda, owner of Vayda’s Seafood Market in Wade and Lucedale. “We were at a 540 percent growth from 2008 until the oil spill.”

Vayda opened his first store in Wade in 2001 and his second in Lucedale in 2008.

“At the end of 2009, we opened a third store in Lucedale, and that’s when we really started to soar,” he said. “We were doing great and made more in one month than we did in all of 2008.”

The second Lucedale location, however, was closed in June because Vayda didn’t have enough seafood to split between three stores.

“Everything was looking really good, then they jerked the rug out from under us with this oil spill,” he said, noting that the availability of fresh domestic product is still low.

“I just don’t see how things could get normal on the coast in two years,” Vayda said.

Vayda said he will not accept a final payment based on Feinberg’s new plan, and neither will Ocean Springs shrimper Ricky Ross or Gautier restaurateur Michael Majure.

“Right now I’m going to hang on and stick with the interim payments until I can get a grip on what the brown shrimp season will look like,” said Ross, who has owned a shrimp boat for 30 years.

Ross said it’s too early to make assumptions about how long it will take the shrimping industry to fully recover.

“How are they coming up with these 70 percent and 30 percent figures?” he said. “To tell the truth, even I don’t know what to expect for this year until we see what this next season will look like.”

Brown shrimp season usually begins in mid-June, he said, and shrimpers will begin to get a feel for the season around April or May, when juvenile brown shrimp start appearing.

Majure said he will reject the proposed final settlement methodology for the same reason the rejected the $25,000 quick payment, which would have required him to promise not to seek further compensation or to sue BP.

“It’s not enough,” he said. “The $25,000 would have helped me get out of the hole, but it wouldn’t get me back what I’ve put in. I’ve drained my savings account to keep my 20 employees.”

Majure, who owns Petit Bois Café in Gautier and Petit Bois Café II in downtown Pascagoula, said he’s also unsure how long the oil spill’s effects will hurt his business.

“That’s just number crunchers coming up with that 70 percent and 30 percent,” he said. “They have no idea what we’ll be looking at five years down the road.”

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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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