Gulf Coast residents vent frustrations over oil spill claims process


MOBILE, Alabama – Frustrated individuals and business owners along the Gulf Coast took Ken Feinberg to task about slow claims payments, unfair reimbursements and unclear filing methods during a two-week public comment period on the claims czar’s plan for final oil spill compensation.

More than 100 people wrote e-mails and letters, which are posted on the website run by Feinberg’s Gulf Coast Claims Facility.

Some told personal stories of loss blamed on the spill, adding that Feinberg’s claims operation has yet to make them whole.

None applauded Feinberg’s handling of claims.

“Feinberg is no better than financier Bernard Madoff,” someone identified as an Alabama resident wrote in an e-mail, adding, “They are both scam artists.”

Madoff, now jailed, is the architect of a far-reaching scheme that bilked billions of dollars from high-profile investors.

Another person, this one identified as a Mississippi resident, told of averaging 16 charter trips last February but lacking even one client so far this month.

“BP has destroyed my life,” the writer said. “I don’t sleep at night, thinking about what is in store for me from BP and my business.”

Feinberg took over claims from BP PLC, majority owner of the well that spewed oil into the Gulf during the summer. After spending the last few months of 2010 making “emergency” claims payments, Feinberg moved the process into its “final” phase on Nov. 23 and published proposed rules for that repayment phase Feb. 2.

The period for public comment ended Feb. 16.

Some complained about the people working for the claims facility, saying they were incompetent. Others said they had not gotten claims payments and threatened to sue.

The hand-written letter of an 86-year-old unemployed Orange Beach man, who shucked oysters, said he is “searching for employment without luck.” He ends the letter this way: “I will litigate against you.”

Among other comments by those who said they were from Alabama or Mississippi:

  • “People are losing everything they have and just feel like giving up.”
  • “You have insulted the people of the Gulf long enough,” said a writer who “carefully reviewed” Feinberg’s plan for payments.
  • “Once again the innocent working people will get the short end of the stick.”
  • “The final offer is far from generous and contains serious flaws,” read an e-mail from a person identifying themselves as executive vice president of the largest nonprofit business association on the central Gulf Coast, writing on behalf of its 2,200 members.

As an example of perceived inequities in the process thus far, an Alabama resident, who, along with six siblings, owns a Gulf Coast condominium, wrote that each was told to file claims separately for tax purposes. Though rental income is divided equally among the siblings, three of the filers each received different amounts.

“The claimants are victims of this disaster,” wrote one resident. “Yet we are made to feel like villains, creatures with our hands out to take something that is not ours.”

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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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