By Brittany Wait
|LAFITTE, LA. — Angry Lafitte families and fishermen lined up to confront BP “pay czar” Kenneth Feinberg at a packed town meeting Jan. 11, to voice their complaints about the company’s $20 billion oil spill fund.
Once the so-called “special master” of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, Feinberg now serves as the government-appointed administrator of the BP Deepwater Horizon Disaster Compensation Fund. It is he who decides whether a claim is legitimate.
The Deepwater Horizon drilling platform exploded last April, killing 11 rig workers and spilling an estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico over the course of 85 days.
BP took full responsibility, vowing to pay for all legitimate claims to people who could prove their livelihoods had been damaged by the oil spill. According to the Gulf Coast Claims Facility website, Individuals and businesses eligible for compensation must prove damages involving clean-up costs, property, loss of profit or physical injury or death.
On May 14, President Obama announced a moratorium on drilling new deep sea wells in the Gulf of Mexico, one which also halted permits for new work on existing oil drilling rigs. The ban hurt Gulf Coast communities economically dependent on offshore drilling for jobs and income, as well as the fishing industry. Coast fishermen are still uncertain about the long-term effects of the chemical dispersants used to combat the oil spill, particularly their impact on shrimp and crabs.
Clint Guidry, the secretary of the Louisiana Shrimp Association, came to the meeting prepared with questions and a list of claimants’ problems. He argued that everyone’s livelihoods and claims are equally important, no matter their size.
“You have to remember that at the beginning of all of this we asked for some stability in our lives,” Guidry said. “That’s why the $20 billion program was created, because we lobbied for it and we wanted that.”
In June, BP told the U.S. government that it would create a $20 billion fund to compensate victims of the oil spill. About five months later, Feinberg said that he expected to dole out $10 billion in emergency claims from the $20 billion fund to those who filed before Nov. 23 and planned to pay claimants within 48 hours or businesses within seven days. According to the New Orleans Times-Picayune. This month, more than 120,000 claimants who received payments chose a one-time disbursement—$5000 for individuals, $25,000 for businesses. BP offered one-time payouts to claimants who waived their right to sue.
The Gulf Coast Claims Facility (GCCF) has 12 offices in Louisiana, including one in Lafitte, and others in Florida and Alabama, to help businesses and individuals file claims for costs and damage due to the spill. According to the website, the facility has paid $2.7 billion to more than 170,000 claimants and has received over 468,000 claims.
“I again say Louisiana alone has received more money under this program than any other state—over a billion dollars, so I’m going to listen to these claims and these frustrated claimants and do what I can to help,” Feinberg said during an impromptu news conference after the meeting.
Empire shrimper Elmer Rogers-Nicholes pointed his finger at Feinberg, telling him that his 13-year-old daughter woke up on Christmas morning without water or electricity in their home. At the meeting, he waved a stack of documents at Feinberg, before handing over a manila folder and urged Feinberg to look at his case that same day.
Rogers-Nicholes said it wasn’t the first time he had tried to get Feinberg’s attention. “He lied to me in New Orleans, he told me 24 to 48 hours, so why not lie now,” he said.
At the end of the meeting, Feinberg told him that he would personally look over his claim and call him by the end of the week. Two days later Rogers-Nicholes said that he had not yet received a call from him.