Oil claims czar plans to answer claims questions in Saturday tour


GULF SHORES, Ala. – The government-appointed claims czar, Ken Feinberg, has planned a Saturday morning tour of coastal Alabama to explain how he will distribute billions of dollars set aside by BP PLC to compensate economic victims of the Gulf oil spill.

Feinberg, who will make two stops each in Mobile and Baldwin counties, is coming the morning after BP gives up the reins to its embattled reimbursement process.

And Feinberg, who oversaw the victim compensation fund after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, will be bringing teams of adjusters to consult with individuals on their specific claims, Gov. Bob Riley said.

The governor, who met with Feinberg on Tuesday morning in Montgomery, said during a news conference in Gulf Shores that it’s crucial claimants attend Saturday’s sessions.

“If we really have a successful Saturday, and then they follow through next week, I think it is going to help relieve some of the paranoia that has been out there for so long,” Riley said. “There are some people out there, and it didn’t work for whatever reason — that was on someone else’s watch.

“Let’s at least give the new process the benefit of the doubt moving forward.”

Feinberg is scheduled to make hourlong visits at:

6:45 a.m., at the Orange Beach Recreation Center on Canal Road.

8 a.m., at Gulf Shores High School on Dolphin Avenue.

10:15 a.m., at the Bayou La Batre Community Center on Padgett Switch Road.

11:45 a.m., on Dauphin Island at St. Edmunds by the Sea Catholic Church on Cadillac Avenue.

“We need to make sure that every one of us are down here talking to the people in the room,” the governor said. “If there is a problem in the claims process, we need to know so we can improve it. It’s not that they don’t have the money. The money’s there. Now it’s just the matter of setting up the structure that will expedite this process.”

In mid-June, President Barack Obama and BP officials agreed that the oil giant would pay $20 billion over four years into a fund to compensate victims and cover spill damages. BP made its first deposit into that fund — $3 billion — earlier this month.

A BP spokesman said today would be the last day the company will accept new reimbursement applications, though it will continue to write checks and staff its local claims offices through the weekend.

But anyone who doesn’t submit an application with BP before the end of the day will have to wait until Monday and file with Feinberg’s Gulf Coast Claims Facility.

Those with pending claims also will have to register with Feinberg’s program, but will not have to resubmit financial documents they’ve already given to BP.

Feinberg has pledged that his system will turn out emergency payments to individuals in 48 hours, and businesses within seven days.

“We’ve come a long way from the first time that we met, when we were talking about only if the oil touched your property could you file a claim, to a point today where we say, ‘In the geographic area, the southern part of Baldwin County, everyone is impacted, everyone should be able to file a legitimate claim,'” Riley said.

Suncoast Beach Service Inc. owner Jason Holt, who supplies condos and hotels with beach chairs and umbrellas, said Tuesday that he’s received only $10,000 of his $250,000 claim from BP and is “cautiously optimistic” about getting the remainder from Feinberg.

With revenue down nearly 70 percent this summer, Holt said, he had to lay off 10 employees to stay in business.

Looming after Labor Day, however, are several payments to condominium associations he works with. If his claim isn’t paid in time, he said, he won’t be able to write his own checks.

“It will be the first time in the history of my company, since I started it in 1996, that I will have had to take out a loan,” Holt said. “That’s the kind of position this is putting me in.”

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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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