By the numbers
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
Oil In The Gulf
MARCO ISLAND — 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.
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.