Coverage: Gulf Coast Oil Spill
Hotels, restaurants and other businesses in Southwest Florida could see more money coming from BP.
On Monday, Kenneth Feinberg, who is overseeing the $20 billion BP fund to compensate victims of the oil spill, announced relaxed rules for paying claims, saying geography will no longer play a role in whether businesses and individuals get paid.
“It should have been done from the beginning. But it’s better late than never,” said Steve Yerrid, a Tampa attorney who is advising Gov. Charlie Crist on oil spill matters.
Yerrid encourages individuals and businesses hurt by the spill to resubmit their claims if they feel they were denied, or not considered, because they’re in an area that didn’t see oil washing up on the beaches.
“As the delays continue to go on, the people that are adversely affected and the companies that are adversely affected are suffering catastrophic consequences. Time is of the essence,” Yerrid said.
Some hotels in Southwest Florida are still weighing whether to file a claim. The more lenient rules could encourage more businesses to do it.
Robert Pfeffer, director of sales and marketing at the Marco Island Marriott Resort, Golf Club & Spa, called the policy change “good news.”
“We are still in the process of gathering and reviewing information to determine the possibility of submitting a claim,” he said in an e-mail.
“In the meantime we are continuing to send out a positive message to all potential convention and leisure vacationers that our beaches are pristine, beautiful and totally unaffected by the oil spill,” Pfeffer said.
Misperceptions that oil covered Florida’s beaches has hurt tourism statewide.
Jack Wert, executive director of the Naples, Marco Island, Everglades Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the policy change could help businesses big and small.
“This is a nice change of heart,” he said.
Wert requested $750,000 in BP money for tourism marketing in June through Gov. Charlie Crist to help soften the blow of the oil spill in Collier County. So far, BP has not allocated any money to support that request.
In May, BP awarded the state a $25 million emergency grant for tourism marketing, with most of the money going to VisitFlorida — Florida’s tourism marketing arm — for a statewide advertising campaign. Several tourism bureaus in other counties — including Lee and Miami-Dade — received a share of the money, with the largest share going to the Panhandle, which saw oil on its beaches. Wert learned all the money had been spent after he sent his letter requesting a piece of it.
Some businesses in Southwest Florida and other parts of the state where beaches remained oil-free have had their claims denied, or have only received partial payments. Some claims have seemed to be in limbo — never getting approved or denied.
“It seems like people have made a lot of claims. I don’t know of any that have gotten paid up here, other than fishermen,” said Richard McKyton, a defense attorney in St. Petersburg.
“The good news for BP is that it’s not real easy for anybody to substantiate their losses, unless you’re a fisherman — when one day you were making $5,000 a month, then the next day you were shut down totally.”
Keith Overton, chief operating officer of the TradeWinds Island Resorts on St. Pete Beach and the chairman of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, said as of Friday 2,000 claims had been made from businesses and individuals in Florida, located in areas that never saw oil hit their beaches. “There is probably going to be a ton more now,” he said.
Overton’s resort filed a $1.05 million claim that was denied by BP before Feinberg took over as the administrator of the victims fund. Denial was based on the fact that his beaches never saw oil, he said.
He’s been told the resort will now get its claim processed, though he’s unsure how much money might come from it.
“I think he (Feinberg) wanted to pay these claims out in his heart of hearts,” Overton said. “But he was struggling with how to do that, the precedent that would be set. I think he was feeling some pressure from BP, but I give him credit. He battled through all that and made the right decision.”
Gov. Crist applauded Feinberg’s decision too.
“Removing physical proximity from the criteria for claims will help many Florida hotels and restaurants that lost business and income even though they are miles from the oil spill,” he said in a statement. “Even in areas that never saw a single tar ball, businesses were hurt by the perception of oil on Florida’s beaches, seafood and coastal waters.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.