Members of a state oil spill task force on Wednesday sharply criticized independent claims administrator Kenneth R. Feinberg for his new claims review process while Attorney General Bill McCollum said he plans to meet with Feinberg to discuss their differences.
The BP oil spill that began April 20 sent waves of oil ashore at Pensacola Beach in early July and has continued to send scattered tar balls onto Panhandle beaches. Representatives of real estate, tourism and seafood industries say their businesses were harmed by the spill — even in areas without oil in water or on beaches.
President Barack Obama in June placed Feinberg in charge of a $20 billion claims fund set up by BP to compensate spill victims. Members of the Oil Spill Economic Recovery Task Force said Feinberg made a good impression at a task force meeting in Destin on July 28. But they said they were unhappy with the claims policies, also called protocols, that Feinberg laid out when he took over the process on Aug. 23.
Feinberg came across at that meeting as a “knight in shining armor,” Monroe County Commissioner Mario Di Gennaro said. “His armor is not shining any more.”
McCollum said he plans to meet with Feinberg within the next two weeks he said there is trust between the two men.
“I’m hoping in the next couple of weeks Mister Feinberg will see some light on this,” McCollum told reporters after the meeting. “Otherwise it’s going to be a long and protracted problem for a lot of people in Florida.”
Feinberg told the Florida Tribune he looked forward to meeting with the task force and he said McCollum is “an exemplary public servant.”
“But I disagree under OPA (the federal Oil Pollution Act) that any hotel anywhere in the state can somehow recover (for damages,” Feinberg said.
Carol B. Dover, president of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, said her group hired a consortium of lawyers after three meetings with Feinberg were ineffective.
Task force members commented following a presentation byMcCollum and a member of his legal team. But the task force already had agreed to write a letter to Feinberg after some members expressed frustration with the claims process.
McCollum said Feinberg, while stating that the claims process is voluntary, is requiring that people must live near areas that have been affected by oil washing ashore to claim damages.
McCollum also said the federal Oil Pollution Act of 1990, which was enacted to avoid litigation, is broader in its relief than Feinberg is allowing with his protocols.
A visual graphic presented by Russell S. Kent, special counsel for litigation in the Attorney General’s Office, showed that BP paid more than $1 million in claims from Broward County on the Atlantic coast, which has not been affected by oil. That showed BP did not use the geographic proximity test, Kent said.
“We’ve seen recent reports that tourists continue to believe there is oil on our beaches even in areas far removed,” he said.
Feinberg said he will continue to consider the issue. But he added: “I am absolutely convinced that my proximity determinations will be much more generous for hotels and restaurants in Florida than if they filed a lawsuit and litigated for five years.”
Feinberg will be asked to speak to the task force again, said Chairman Chris Hart, director of the Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development. Feinberg told the Florida Tribune he welcomed the opportunity.
During the meeting, Hart also said the panel will send a letter quoting Feinberg’s earlier promises and matching them with Florida’s concerns. Di Gennaro and some other members suggested that a stronger response may be needed.
“I never thought I’d say this — that part of me would like to have BP back,” added George H. Sheldon, secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families. “That is kind of a frustrating place to be.”
Photo by Samuel Wantman, GFDL. Story provided by the Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.)