Jefferson Parish still seeking compensation for oil spill cleanup


As Jefferson Parish continues to struggle with ramifications of the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, the money for the local response effort keeps flowing out faster than it’s coming in, officials said.

The parish Finance Department and the Jefferson Sheriff’s Office have estimated that local response efforts through Oct. 10 cost roughly $7.7 million since the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded in April. BP, the company responsible for the disaster, has shelled out $4.3 million to cover that, leaving a $3.4 million gap. Paul Rivera, the Sheriff’s Office internal auditor, indicated that the outstanding balance could push to $4 million after officials calculate the latest round of bills.

Finance Director Gwen Bolotte said the oil spill has cost Jefferson Parish on average $46,000 a day.

“We’re tired of getting the runaround in terms of getting reimbursement, so we’re going to use any leverage we can,” Parish President John Young said last week.

Young traveled to Baton Rouge last Tuesday to strike an accord with Gov. Bobby Jindal and other parish presidents to keep pressure on BP. Young said he would not agree to any plan that would let the company pull out of the area without meeting specific criteria: reimbursement, removing boom anchors and a visit from the lawyer assigned by President Barack Obama’s administration to dole out compensation to businesses and residents financially hurt by the oil disaster.

Young acknowledged he had little recourse should BP decide to leave before local officials are satisfied with its response to the disaster. However, the Parish Council continues to delay hiring a lawyer to sue BP, a move that allows the parish to avoid paying a retainer while keeping a finger on the trigger should officials decide on legal action.

The bulk of the costs are related to sheriff’s deputies pulling security details on Grand Isle and in the Lafitte area, where oil response work crews are stationed. Sheriff Newell Normand warned that he would begin cutting back on the details if BP remained delinquent in paying for the service, Rivera said.

“We apparently got their attention, and they have been very responsive to addressing this backlog,” he said. “We have had several meetings with BP security and the government claims office and are very encouraged by what they are planning to do. We haven’t received payment yet, but they are promising something in the next seven to 10 days.”

Rivera also said that BP advised it can expedite reimbursement payments if the Sheriff’s Office and the parish Finance Department start separately billing the company. Until now, the bills had been combined, leading to some confusion in BP’s processing offices.

“I can’t say that it has made it easier since we are just now submitting our bills on their own, but that is the hope,” Rivera said. “Apparently, by bundling the bills, we made them very voluminous and it was harder on BP to go through them to approve.”

Todd Beyer, a spokesman for the “unified area command” center managing the response, said that BP had no comment because its reimbursement policy for governments hasn’t changed since it began.

In addition to reimbursement, Young also requested that BP remove all anchors left behind in parish waterways. The anchors locked oil containment boom to the seafloor. When crews removed the boom, they simply cut it free, leaving the anchors.

Local officials have complained that the 3-foot, 80-pound anchors are large enough to damage the hulls of passing boats. BP has said that the anchors, which lay flat or are deeply embedded in seafloor sediment, don’t appear to pose a hazard.

Young also said he had asked Kenneth Feinberg, the Boston lawyer placed in charge of a $20 billion account to compensate businesses and residents harmed financially by the oil leak, to return to Jefferson for a town hall meeting. Young said he has fielded complaints that larger shrimp processing plants in the area were not receiving equitable payments for their losses.

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