Gulf oil spill claims chief Kenneth Feinberg assured an overflow crowd of 250 spill victims at a town hall meeting Monday in Grand Isle that he will begin calculating final settlements in 30 days.
But many in attendance were nonplussed, saying they are still waiting for payments from the emergency claims program that ended in November.
A commercial fisher said he has had to repeatedly raid his retirement fund and pay huge penalties to make ends meet.
Another fisher, Michael Frazier of Grand Isle, said he has received a single payment for $5,800.
“I made more money in the first two days of last year’s shrimp season than I got for my six-month settlement,” Frazier said.
Feinberg, who controls the purse strings of BP’s $20 billion settlement fund, acknowledged there have been mistakes in processing claims.
“I’m trying to do the right thing,” he said. “This is an unprecedented job. There are thousands and thousands and thousands of claims. But we’re getting through them, and the money is going out.”
The Gulf Coast Claims Facility has paid $2.9 billion to settle 168,000 claims, about a third of the claims filed.
The meeting was part of a two-day tour of the Gulf Coast by Feinberg to explain the compensation process and listen to concerns. He will hold another meeting Tuesday from 10:30-11:30 a.m. in Jean Lafitte at the City Park Multi-Purpose Complex, 4917 City Park Drive.
Karen Hopkins, a Grand Isle resident and seafood worker, handed Feinberg an online petition calling for his resignation.
“We don’t feel like you have given us choices,” she said. “What you have presented to us are ultimatums.”
Feinberg countered that spill victims have a choice of three options.
They can file for a quick final payment of $5,000 for individuals and $25,000 for businesses to be paid within two weeks.
Claimants can also opt for a final settlement offer based on a formula to be finalized in 30 days.
The first two options require victims to give up their right to sue BP. Those who aren’t ready to do that can file for quarterly payments through August 2013 as long as they can show proof of continued losses, Feinberg said.
Feinberg engaged in a spirited discussion with more than a dozen fishers and business owners who said they have not been fully compensated.
“We’ve paid out $1 billion in Louisiana alone. Somebody’s getting money,” he said. “It might be the wrong people, but somebody’s getting money.”
A prominent Washington, D.C., arbitration lawyer, Feinberg said he has increased staffing at claims offices in response to complaints about jammed phone lines.
Feinberg assured some exasperated claimants he would personally review their claims.
“You sound like a broken record: ‘I’ll check on it, I’ll check on it,'” one man said. “I don’t want you to check on it. I want an answer about whether I’m going to get any money so I’ll know what to do.”
With tar balls still washing up on Grand Isle’s beaches, several spill victims said they are worried about the spill’s long-term effects and think it is too soon to determine a fair final settlement.
Feinberg emphasized that those affected by the spill can continue receiving quarterly payments.
Paul Rioux can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 504.826.3785.
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