BP stops paying tourism claims on lower Gulf Coast, angering hoteliers

Beach visitors enjoy the sun and sand in Biloxi, Miss., on Thursday, July 22, 2010, as BP contractors look for signs of oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Residents along the Mississippi Gulf Coast are keeping their eyes on Tropical Storm Bonnie as it moves toward the Gulf of Mexico. (AP Photo/The Sun Herald, James Edward Bates)

Beach visitors enjoy the sun and sand in Biloxi, Miss., on Thursday, July 22, 2010, as BP contractors look for signs of oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Residents along the Mississippi Gulf Coast are keeping their eyes on Tropical Storm Bonnie as it moves toward the Gulf of Mexico. (AP Photo/The Sun Herald, James Edward Bates)

Should BP keep paying for claims filed in areas not directly affected by the oil spill?

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Claims filed and paid as of Aug. 5

All of Florida: 48,209; $55.8 million

Okaloosa (Panhandle): 10,244; $13.4 million

Collier: 684; $588,509

Lee: 970; $271,193

Monroe: 1,104; $850,000

Pinellas: 2,009 $1.1 million

Hillsborough: 765; $560,000

Miami-Dade: 361; $28,238

— BP is looking to cut off more than just the oil spill.

Claims filed from Florida’s tourism industry are on hold in Naples and other areas not in the directly affected Panhandle area, BP officials have announced.

Jack Wert, executive director of the Naples, Marco Island, Everglades Convention and Visitors Bureau, said it’s not the right approach for the oil giant to take.

“If that’s the case, that certainly is very sad,” said Wert, noting that as of Thursday, he hadn’t been notified yet of the change.

Wert requested $750,000 in BP money on behalf of marketing for tourism in Collier County. The request was made in June through Gov. Charlie Crist, who then would allocate the state’s allotment to Florida’s counties.

“We’re still in the hunt for that,” Wert said Thursday.

Crist’s staff is negotiating with BP on the state’s claim, Wert said.

Recent changes announced by the company aren’t relevant to government claims — only businesses and individuals.

“I’m sure there will be a huge outcry if they shut everybody off,” Wert said.

That outcry already could be heard on Marco Island.

Marcia Mandel, general manager of the Marco Island Lakeside Inn, said it’s not fair.

Tourists’ lack of knowledge about which specific areas were affected by the oil hurt many area hotels and restaurants, she said.

CLICK HERE FOR RELATED STORY Collier, Lee emergency managers no longer worried about BP spill effects here

She said she documented that the hotel lost about $40,000 since the April 20 Deepwater Horizon explosion that led to an underwater geyser gushing millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico for months.

“Prior to the spill, we were up 3 percent from last year,” Mandell said of bookings at the inn.

“Now, we’re down 58 percent from the year before and you try to say it’s not from you,” she said, alluding to BP.

Mandell said her 19-room hotel didn’t receive many cancellations, but has received many fewer bookings.

“We just didn’t have people call,” she said.

Perception among Europeans and even potential U.S. customers was that Florida’s beaches were oiled, Mandell said.

A BP representative informed Mandell of a change in policy Tuesday that led to her receiving $4,800 instead of $18,000 as she initially anticipated, she said.

Mandell was outraged to be informed that BP wouldn’t compensate her for days prior to the oil moving into the waters of the state of Florida. The general fear at the time, she said, was that oil may end up in Florida sooner than it had, leading people to no longer consider the Gulf of Mexico area for their vacations, she said.

It’s not clear how claims policy changes that are taking effect this August will affect every business type.

The only clue BP spokesman Darryl Willis has given is that the policy is to prioritize those close to the spill as opposed to those farther south of Okaloosa County in the Panhandle.

Restaurants and tourism business claims outside the Panhandle are put on hold as Feinberg’s approach takes effect this month, BP officials reported in the prepared release.

“There are several thousand claims not clearly within the guidelines of the Oil Pollution Act which guides BP’s claims process,” Willis said.

Mandell considers the change a broken promise.

“They never have been legally responsible, but they said they would make good,” she said.

Restaurants or tourism businesses located in close proximity to a beach or marsh that has been oiled, as well as fishermen and charter boat operators who have been affected by the oil spill, are being processed expeditiously, BP officials said.

Seafood processors in the affected area who don’t have any seafood to process and condo units located on beaches that have been closed due to oil remain to be paid.

“BP will defer decisions on some business and individual claims to Ken Feinberg, who will take over the claims process with the establishment of the Gulf Coast Claims Facility later this month,” Willis said in a prepared statement posted to BP’s website.

Feinberg, dubbed a claims czar, is one of the nation’s leading experts in mediation and alternative dispute resolution. He is to set the policies, as individual adjusters also will be working claims in his Gulf Coast Claims Facility.

“There are some tough decisions to be made on a variety of claims,” Willis said regarding claims being referred to Feinberg. “Ken (Feinberg) and his team are the claims experts. It is right that they make the decisions on these claims.”

How long the Naples office will remain open remains unknown, said Naples BP claims office manager Tom Wiley, an independent contractor.

Brad Eplan, spokesman for the Florida oil spill response team, couldn’t be reached Thursday.

In June, Eplan had said the Florida claims offices were set up because BP recognized the effects on the state as a whole.

“We appreciate that there are people and businesses impacted beyond the areas that have had oil,” Eplan told the Daily News at that time.

Whether that means the Naples claims office will close soon remains unknown.

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Comments » 9

tmcculley#11984 writes:

My wife and I just returned minutes ago from a wonderful sunset stroll on Marco's beautiful beach. We thanked God that our beach has no effect from the oil, but it is clear that Marco's businesses have been affected. We saw more birds than people.

JoeFubietze writes:

I wonder how many people are surprised by this. The Rube-Goldberg method that they tried as a 'temporary' measure works. So now they want to stop spending any money on the real fix. The spill story is not even on the media's radar anymore. Why would anyone think that BP would make good on any more promises once the general populace wasn't informed anymore?

multi_million_heir writes:

in response to tmcculley#11984:

My wife and I just returned minutes ago from a wonderful sunset stroll on Marco's beautiful beach. We thanked God that our beach has no effect from the oil, but it is clear that Marco's businesses have been affected. We saw more birds than people.

That is the beauty of Marco in the summer. You have the beach to yourself. It is nothing new, nor caused by the oil spill.

GBR writes:

Now you know why they made BP put $20 billion in an escrow account. It should have been $40 billion.

I figured they would try to weasel out as soon as possible.

;-)

Fossil writes:

What oil spill? This never happened. It was a put up job by the Obama administration. They faked the underwater video stream, they faked the whole thing. The Obama administration simply wanted to put another global unregulated company that cares only for our welfare out of business. I know this is true because I read it on the internet. What I want to know is why my realator can't get the same seasonal rate for my condo he got last year. Oh yes, and why can't he find somebody to rent it?

multi_million_heir writes:

in response to Fossil:

What oil spill? This never happened. It was a put up job by the Obama administration. They faked the underwater video stream, they faked the whole thing. The Obama administration simply wanted to put another global unregulated company that cares only for our welfare out of business. I know this is true because I read it on the internet. What I want to know is why my realator can't get the same seasonal rate for my condo he got last year. Oh yes, and why can't he find somebody to rent it?

You hit it on the head. The oil spill is really a non-issue up north and has been since day one. The media black out assured that. The reason you can't rent your unit is all Bush's fault. I know that is true because Obama said so many times. Service companies here have known for some time that you must do the best work for the absolute lowest cost ever right now. Rental rates have dropped also. Tourism is down globally. Other than folks vacationing in the Carolinas to greet homecoming soldiers, I haven't found any stories jumping out about increased tourism in the states. Having lived here for eight years, and having clients whose rental homes we manage, I see no real drastic change in occupancy over past years. P.S. enjoy the article on tourism in Florida from LAST YEAR.

http://www.tampabay.com/news/business...

ajm3s writes:

in response to Klabautermann:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

K:

I know you like the Obama administration, but I left him a long time ago when he deftly stripped away the promise (rights) to bondholders in the GM and Chrysler takeover so many months ago.

This was a promise that was established for the efficient transaction of normal business and trade practices. Bondholders are the first to recover from the devastation of bankruptcy at least in this country.

Yes, they saved jobs (GM and Chysler), but the precedence set in putting bondholders in the back of the line has added to the devastation of those willing to provide credit going forward, amongst a whole slew of other economic decisions that continue to mount.

So GM and Chysler have saved auto jobs but 9.5% of Americans seeking employment remain disappointed. And the those that provide credit to start and expand business have held on to their monies and the working folks are left searching for jobs.

I will make the claim that those auto jobs held by two companies and their suppliers that support them, dwarf in comparison to the 9.5% of Americans seeking employment. Was this save a few at the expense of the many?

I recommend less government interference, less regulation with unintended consequences and more people exercising independence and pursuit of their dreams by encouraging innovation (not through government subsidies and welfare).

My money is best managed and controlled by me and I will not spend it in this uncertain regulatory environment.

I worked in an industry that is regulated by the FDA. The FDA has been stable in its enforcement and issuance of regulations over time. But the regulations coming out of Washington in the last 2 years are simply crippling this great nation.

The Jackson Lab story is a great example of Federal subsidies/loan influencing poor economic/business planning. Collier County does not have the expertise nor the insight as to what industries or specific companies should receive funding/loans? They are simply handouts to those with access to our representatives that see government as a solution rather than as the beast of conformity (i.e. share the wealth) and mediocrity.

Americans are leaders of the world because our past encouraged the pursuit of dreams to their fulfillment. Get government out of the way especially overreaching Federal mandates.

Obama believes in more government to solve problems and makes claims(promises)to justify its role. And as these promises become unattainable or outlandish looking back because control of market and technological forces will rise in spite of its hand. Federal regulations in the past two years have only stifled and created a false sense of regulation (i.e banking and insurance industry).

Just review the history of the MMS and its role in oil industry regulation and issuance of permits in the USA.

naples_rocket writes:

Can all these hotels and restaurants provide numbers from 2009 that we could compare with this year?
Most of the people coming to Marco/Naples in the summer are from the east coast Fl and they know very well what goes on here.
I spent some time up north this summer and as somebody said before, people up there don't care about oil spill and have heard very little about it. Same story with the Arizona law. Nobody even knows about it. I felt like I'm in some foreign country.

u2cane writes:

I hate BP as much as the next person, but let's get real, how can you prove that the threat of the oil spew caused people to not come? How can you prove that it isn't the economy that simply sucks?

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