Florida Lee and Collier Counties
BP spill claims window closes
MARY WOZNIAK • firstname.lastname@example.org
The deadline to file emergency claims in the BP oil spill came and went Tuesday as claimants in Lee and Collier counties continue to hang by an ever-fraying economic thread.
They wait for word that could mean business salvation or ruination.
Seven months after the April 20 Deepwater Horizon explosion and spill sent millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf, the money to compensate those who lost business or even their livelihoods trickles in.
Nationwide, almost 30 percent of 423,973 claims have been paid, for a total of nearly $2 billion.
In Florida, almost 35 percent of 138,082 claims have been paid, for a total of $684.8 million.
“That’s not a good percentage,” said Edwin Connery, owner of Pelican Inlet Aqua Farms, a Pine Island clam, shrimp and oyster hatchery. “Looks like Lee County has been left out.”
Connery said he filed his claim with BP about 31⁄2 months ago.
“All of our sales have stopped,” he said. “To date, we had two (BP) accountants call us at two different times. We sent them over 700 documents supporting our claim. They sent a letter three weeks ago asking for more documentation, actually asking for what I had sent them.”
In Collier, 8 percent of 12,214 claims have been paid so far, for a total of $10.5 million.
Collier tourism has been left out, said Jack Wert, executive director of the Naples, Marco Island, Everglades Convention & Visitors Bureau.
“I do not feel that our area has been treated fairly at all related to claims for lost business due to the oil spill,” he wrote in an e-mail. “Our businesses were discouraged from filing claims in the beginning of the crisis. In fact, we were not even included in the first emergency declaration by the governor.”
Gary Eichler of Naples has been waiting 81 days to hear about his claim.
The owner of Double R’s Fishing & Tours said he calculated numbers from October and November and found business down 69 percent over last year.
“We’re just a mom and pop,” he said. “We have three boats — two fishing boats and an eco tour boat.” He received a small amount of compensation in the immediate aftermath of the spill, but nothing since, Eichler said.
Connery and Eichler say the problem is Ken Feinberg, who is spearheading efforts to pay claims from a $20 billion compensation fund on behalf of the Gulf Coast claims facility, is overwhelmed. Communication with the facility is practically non-existent.
“Feinberg’s office is on an island and you can’t get to it,” Eichler said.
“We have been able to survive up to now through the help of a lot of people,” Connery said. “We’ll bear it out one way or another. I hate to think about the alternative.”
Eichler was less optimistic. “The sad thing is it’s a game where people’s lives are at stake,” he said. “If they deny me, we’re done.”