ORANGE BEACH, Alabama — Ken Feinberg took over the oil spill claims process Monday with momentum after a whirlwind weekend visit answering Alabama’s coastal residents’ lingering questions and concerns.
Feinberg made several visits in recent weeks to affected Gulf Coast communities. The latest fast-paced round of Alabama visits began early Saturday morning at the Orange Beach Recreation Center and Gulf Shores High School.
Feinberg spoke to and took questions from crowds of about 250 at each Baldwin County location.
Jeff Hardy, owner of Sand Dollar stores in Orange Beach and Gulf Shores, was among those who asked questions in Orange Beach. Hardy said BP PLC denied his claim for his Orange Beach store because it is located 1.5 miles from the beach at The Wharf.
Feinberg’s response was immediate and simple.
“You’re eligible. We’ll process your claim within seven days. Fill out the claims forms. You’ll be paid,” Feinberg said.
Many audience members applauded. Hardy had spoken before of his frustration with the BP claims process during the city of Orange Beach’s weekly meetings at the recreation center earlier in the month.
Hardy then said that he has five Sand Dollar locations, and asked whether there was a geographical “cutoff” — a distance from the shore beyond which businesses will be disqualified.
“I’m sure there is. I can’t tell you off the top of my head that it’s between Main Street and Smith Street,” Feinberg said. “But fill out the form. One claim via five businesses is OK. I can’t tell you exactly how we’ll adjust that payment, but we’ll get that answer for you within a week.”
Starting Monday and for the following three months, through Nov. 23, anyone adversely affected by the spill can file a form available at the same 35 claims centers BP was using or online at www.gulfcoastclaimsfacility.com.
At each location where Feinberg spoke Saturday, he invited attendees to fill out new claims forms with a staff of 15 there on site. Often, after Feinberg delivered his speech and before the question-and-answer segment began, dozens of people left the room and lined up to fill out the new form.
Feinberg made it clear many times that Monday would mark the end of BP’s claims process and the start of his own operation.
“I don’t care if BP rejected your claim. File again. At the same time, I don’t care if they accepted your claim,” he said.
If a person’s or business’ claim was previously approved by BP, Feinberg said his claim process may result in monthly payments that are larger or smaller than those approved by BP.
While claimants will not have to duplicate the paperwork already filed with BP, each claimant in the new process must file a new cover sheet and receive a new claim number, he said.
Feinberg said that claimants could use financial records from a number of years or an average of two or three years to show their loss. “It’s really your choice,” he said.
Bob Omansky, general manager of Wintzell’s Oyster House, asked about loss of business at all of the Wintzell’s locations “throughout the state” due to the perception that Gulf seafood is oil-tainted.
“Clearly you’re eligible. Now we have to calculate the damage,” Feinberg said. “Here’s what I was selling before the spill, here’s what I’m selling after the spill. That’s my damage. It doesn’t matter that the oysters are safe, that it’s good seafood, it’s the perception driven by the press.”
A man who said he is in the insurance business said he was “highly disappointed” that Feinberg had “just heard about the insurance people, all the commissioned salespeople. BP has no clue what to do with them.”
Feinberg said “you may be highly disappointed that I’m just discovering this now. That’s the bad news. The good news is that I’m ready to listen. We’re just starting up the program. It’s not like it’s Nov. 22. It’s been brought to my attention now.”
Feinberg said that on his next trip to Alabama he would like to meet with a small group of local insurance people about the issue. The man agreed.
Feinberg said several times that individual claims, starting Monday, would be processed within 48 hours. Business claims would be processed within seven days, he said.