By Martine Powers
Times Staff Writer
PALM HARBOR — David Wolf says it again and again. He has one eye, one ear and one leg, but he's not looking for a handout.
All he wants is what's due to him. And what's due to him, he says, is money from BP.
"The oil isn't on our beaches," said Wolf, who lost a leg to an infection, is blind in one eye and nearly deaf in one ear. "The oil is up here in people's heads, and it ain't going away for a long time, until it's all cleaned up."
Wolf, 63, is the owner of Affordable Rod & Reel Repair, a small fishing equipment repair shop that he operates out of the garage below his house on Avery Avenue in Palm Harbor. The oil spill, he says, has brought his business to all but a screeching halt.
His main customers are charter boats and bait shops, and those kinds of businesses have suffered since BP's Deepwater Horizon oil spill April 20.
The oil hasn't reached the coast of southwest Florida, but ill-informed tourists have canceled vacation plans anyway. The businesses Wolf serves have suffered and so has he: In a normal month, he would often make between $600 and $700 working at his shop. For all of July, he made $41.
Wolf appealed to BP in June to request reimbursement for his lost revenue. In seven days, he had a check for $500 from the company. He said his BP adjuster told him he would continue receiving monthly checks until his business recovered from the oil spill.
"They were very good about it," Wolf said. "I was totally impressed."
But Wolf never received his $500 check for July. Monday, he says, he called the local BP claims hotline and was informed that he would not be receiving any more checks. The oil had not struck the Tampa Bay area, Wolf recalls the agent saying, and no one in the area would receive any more reimbursements.
The company's claim process is guided by the Oil Pollution Act, a 1990 federal law that holds oil companies responsible for repaying direct "removal costs and damages" caused by a spill.
Wolf's claim is among thousands on hold because they do not fit clearly into the Oil Pollution Act guidelines, according to BP spokesman Scott Dean.
Dean said that "distance to an oiled area" is one of several factors considered when deciding if a claims case falls under the guidelines.
The claims on hold will be taken over in mid August by Kenneth Feinberg, an independent administrator appointed by President Barack Obama to oversee the compensation process.
In his modest garage workshop, Wolf works his magic on damaged pieces of fishing equipment. He removes the screws from reels and lubricates the gears. He replaces eyelets on broken rods.
Sometimes, he takes old rods and fixes them up like new, selling them on consignment to local bait shops.
Wolf is retired, but he uses his small business to supplement his Social Security money and his disability checks.
"I'm just a little small speck in this whole realm," Wolf said. "But I need this money to live on."
Before the oil spill, he sold or repaired between 100 and 150 pieces of fishing equipment per month. In July, that number dwindled to less than a dozen rods and reels. Tourists aren't chartering boats anymore, and those chartered boats aren't bringing him broken rods. Bait shops aren't buying his rods, because there are no tourists to whom they can sell the rods.
"It all trickles down to me," Wolf said. "I'm at the bottom of the totem pole."
Ray Fisher is a captain for a local charter company. In months past, he said, Wolf would pick up broken rods or reels from him a couple of times a week. But since news of the oil spill has spread, few tourists have called to charter fishing trips. He hasn't had a rod or reel for Wolf since June.
"Business has slowed way down," Fisher said. "And with all the guys David has in my same position, it's got to be hurting him."
Martine Powers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4224.