Plaquemines residents bombard oil spill claims staff with form letters asking for grocery money


About half the households in Plaquemines Parish are using form letters, some provided by Parish Council members on official parish letterhead, to ask oil spill claims czar Kenneth Feinberg to cover their personal food costs – and none include any documentation, Feinberg said.

Feinberg said his staff has received about 4,000 new claims from Plaquemines Parish residents using two photocopied forms. The first form letter requests compensation because “seafood production costs have increased and have caused undue hardships.” The second form letter says the spill has prevented claimants from feeding their families with seafood they used to catch or get from relatives and neighbors.

The second set of claims contains “exactly the same Xeroxed paragraph, which says, ‘Mr. Feinberg, I live off the sea. I eat fish every night for dinner. Now, there are no fish, so I have to go to the grocery store. Please give me …’ fill in the blank, $1,800, $1,300, $1,900,” he said.

“No grocery receipts, no documentation, just an allegation of subsistence loss,” Feinberg said. “Four thousand claims where the claim form is exactly the same, including the misspelling. Outrageous! I can’t pay those claims.”

Plaquemines Parish Council Chairman Don Beshel said he came up with the form letter about seafood production costs – and typed it on parish letterhead – as a way to help his constituents. He then sent copies of the letter to other Parish Council members to send to their constituents, he said.

Beshel’s 1st District office in Davant is in the same building as one of Feinberg’s 35 claims centers. He said he checked with claims workers at the office to make sure his letter was appropriate. Shortly after he distributed the letter, he watched as the office was inundated with claims.

Beshel bristled at Feinberg’s request for better documentation, even if it’s just grocery receipts to show how much a family now must spend on store-bought food.

“If I give fish to my mother-in-law, how can she document that? Do you keep your grocery receipts? No one keeps grocery receipts,” Beshel said.

The claims blitz comes just days before the council and parish president face elections, on Saturday. Parish President Billy Nungesser, who has tangled with Beshel on occasion, said Tuesday he was “embarrassed” by the form letters.

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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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