BP opens claims office in Naples
Dozens are already visiting in seek of ...
Coverage: Gulf Coast Oil Spill
Collier County officials said they were grateful on Tuesday that no oil has reached Southwest Florida beaches — particularly as their heads were buried in the sand when it came to BP opening a claims office in Naples several days ago.
“They snuck in here underneath the radar,” said Joe Frazier, the Homeland Security coordinator with Collier County Emergency Management.
Dan Summers, director of emergency management, said he was surprised there was no forewarning that ESIS, the contractor hired by BP to handle their claims, was coming to town.
He didn’t learn of the office until Monday, he said.
The claims center opened seven days earlier on June 15 and is located at 4121 U.S. 41 East, near Lakewood Boulevard. It’s open every day, including weekends, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m..
Manager Tom Wiley said more than 60 individuals, particularly business owners, have visited thus far. People are coming from Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Tampa and Sarasota, although most are from Naples, he said.
There are 11 claims centers in Florida with two in the Florida Keys and the remainder in northern Florida near Pensacola.
Wiley, an independent contractor from Texas, said he didn’t find out until a Saturday, just two days prior to opening, that he was to manage the Naples claims office.
Currently, there is a temporary “BP Claims Office” sign staked into the ground outside the office in Patriot Square Plaza.
“We’re trying to get a banner, a blinking light saying ‘Here we are.’ We’re not trying to hide from anybody,” Wiley said.
People may find it most convenient to first get a claim number online or by phone and then compile the requested paperwork before visiting, Wiley said.
“We’re setting up a number of offices based on the number of claims being filed,” said Brad Etlin, spokesman for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill response in Florida.
Monroe and Collier counties had more claims than other Florida communities outside the Panhandle and thus offices were set up to meet the communities’ needs, he said.
There are 162 claims from Collier County being processed and $25,200 has been paid out so far in Collier, Etlin reported.
“We appreciate that there are people and businesses impacted beyond the areas that have had oil contact,” Etlin said.
Matt Blaisdell, of Cape Coral, visited the office on Tuesday. Blaisdell operates Poseidon’s Garden Memorial Reef, which provides underwater burial sites at an artificial reef located about 10 miles off Sanibel Island in the Gulf of Mexico.
The business opened in March.
“We were picking up steam pretty good,” Blaisdell said.
That was until the April 20 oil spill, he said.
“Nobody is going to put their loved one’s remains out there with this spill going on. I wouldn’t have put my loved one out there either,” Blaisdell said.
However, Blaisdell’s parents were the first to be memorialized at the site. He doesn’t regret that choice, although he likely wouldn’t make it today, he said.
Blaisdell described the Naples claim center as convenient and user-friendly. He learned of it during a phone application.
“I didn’t get the sense they were blowing me off.”
Blaisdell’s goal is to get BP to build more memorial reefs.
“I wasn’t looking for big bucks,” he said.
Blaisdell didn’t leave the office with much confidence.
“If they do nothing, I’m going to be squawking, trust me,” he said.
Sandy Pine, owner of Naples-based Sandy Retreats, which offers high-end resort rentals in the area, said the list of documents required by BP is absurd.
Nonetheless, she pulled it together for a visit to the claims office on Monday and reorganized them as requested for her return on Tuesday.
Initially, she documented a total loss, however, BP will make payments one month at a time, and requests loss records organized by month.
Pine wasn’t yet issued the $6,000 emergency check she requested for May’s rental losses.
“This is going to bring my business down,” she said.
Pine lost another $100,000 in cancellations for next year, she said. Those losses can’t be claimed yet.
Fraudulent claims aren’t being seen, Wiley said.
The Naples office does not have a direct phone line published. The main BP claims number, 800-440-0858, is still to be used.
“I feel like it’s a prop,” Pine said as she stood outside the office. “The only thing I got from BP is the runaround.”
It’s only a matter of days before the claims office can begin writing checks, Wiley said.
There is no claim too big or small, he said.