WESLEY CHAPEL — Hotel and restaurant bosses from Florida's Gulf Coast gave Ken Feinberg a long list of gripes Wednesday over how his people handled their claims for damages from the BP oil spill.
It takes too long to get a check or denial letter. Claims processors at Gulf Coast Claims Facility offices provide incorrect information about filing paperwork. No one can explain why claims are turned down, if you can reach anyone at all.
"When you get denied, you can't talk to anybody," said Bruce Craul of Legendary Hospitality in Destin, which was paid for damages to its golf course, charter boat and boat sales businesses but not for the waterfront Emerald Grande resort. "It's almost like you've got the plague."
Feinberg's appearance before the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association followed town hall meetings earlier in Fort Walton Beach and Panama City to hear questions and concerns about the claim process.
The tone in ballroom at the Saddlebrook Resort was reserved. Keith Overton of the TradeWinds Islands Resorts in St. Pete Beach, the group's outgoing chairman, called Feinberg a good listener willing to change his mind on policies and direct that certain disputed claims get a second look.
"We've made some mistakes," said Feinberg, noting his organization received more than 470,000 claims and paid $3.2 billion to people and businesses in five Gulf Coast states.
About one-third of the money went to Floridians. In the Tampa Bay area, the fund paid nearly $50 million to 3,288 individuals and businesses. Most of the money went to Pinellas, where residents and businesses received more than $34 million.
Feinberg said he has put more people in Florida offices to answer questions. The deadline for emergency claims passed before Thanksgiving. But people who were turned down can file the claim again for interim payments and get a fresh look, he said.
But business owners like Jeff Stilwell of Barnacle Bill's in Tallahassee wonder how long they can hold out. His restaurant's receipts plummeted as the oyster supply dried up, then customers stopped buying seafood over worries about the lingering effects of oil dispersants.
"I've got 30 to 60 days before I'm out of business," Stilwell said.
Feinberg pledged that one of his assistants would run down his claim — filed just before the deadline — in 24 hours.
Steve Huettel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8128.