Sep 18 2010

Ken Feinberg says he'll expedite Alabama oil spill business claims

Mobile Press-Register

Oil spill claims guru Ken Feinberg on Friday indicated that he is moving thousands of unprocessed Alabama business claims to the front of the line after hearing sharp criticisms this week from residents and public officials.

That news comes as little solace to Robin Lambert, who decided on Friday to close Old Bay Steamer, the iconic downtown Fairhope restaurant she has owned for more than 15 years.

Lambert said she got an emergency check from Feinberg’s Gulf Coast Claims Facility on Tuesday, three weeks after filing her claim, but for just 10 percent of the amount she requested.

"It’s just too little too late," she said Friday. "I can’t take it any further."

BP PLC started paying claims soon after the Deepwater Horizon gusher began April 20, but angered those affected with its slow payments, small checks and headache-inducing red tape.

Feinberg took over Aug. 23, but is now the target of those same criticisms.

U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa, sent Feinberg a letter Friday saying that he remained "extremely concerned" over the spill’s effects on both the economy and ecosystem.

"It is my expectation," Shelby wrote, "that the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, under your leadership, will uphold and follow through on its commitments to the people of Alabama."

Alabama Gov. Bob Riley met with Feinberg on Wednesday and afterward sent him a sharply worded letter saying the claims operation is "unacceptable" and that the pace of payments must quicken.

On Friday, Feinberg said that he had agreed to give priority to business claims in Alabama. Claims are generally reviewed on a first-come, first-served basis, he said.

"Governor Riley said, Ken, could you please come to the rescue of Alabama businesses? Will you make sure that you immediately look at these?’" Feinberg said, adding that he’d answered yes.

Feinberg said there are about 3,900 such claims and about a quarter of them had been processed.

Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon cautioned that writing the checks isn’t enough — the payments must be big enough to cover the losses suffered after the spill.

"Just because you send us a check to make your statistics look good, if they’re not adequate it doesn’t do anything for us," he said.

That’s apparently what happened to Lambert.

Old Bay Steamer, where seafood makes up more than half of sales, filed for bankruptcy protection in 2009.

Lambert said business had been improving in 2010 until the oil spill started and consumers began to shy away from fish and shrimp.

Lambert said that she filed a claim for $159,000 with Feinberg’s operation and planned to use the money to rebrand the restaurant with an Italian theme. On Tuesday she got her check — for $16,000.

"It’s a joke," Lambert said. "It doesn’t even come close to making us whole."

Lambert said that she will close for good Sept. 26.

Feinberg has said that he will not comment on individual claims. According to figures released by the claims operation Friday morning, it had approved more than 18,000 claims and made payments in excess of $171 million to individuals and businesses affected by the spill.

 

More than 32,000 claims had not been processed. Another 15,000 were sent back to the claimant for more financial documentation.