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BP claims delays frustrate Long Beach businessman


Buddy Ray has had a claim against BP for more than three years.

And has heard next to nothing from the people handling the settlement in the Deepwater Horizon disaster in all that time.

The Long Beach businessman figures his business -- Quality Systems and Services, which sells car wash equipment in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida -- was hurt when a gusher of oil spewed into the Gulf and cratered tourism in South Mississippi. He doesn't want to say exactly how much he figures the disaster cost him, only that it was a significant amount of money.

Shortly before 10 p.m. on April 20, 2010, gas, oil and concrete exploded up from the hole being drilled by the Deepwater Horizon rig at the Macando site south of the Mississippi Coast. That explosion and subsequent fire killed 11 on the platform and injured 17 others.

BP initially said 1,000 gallons a day of oil was leaking into the Gulf in the wake of the blast. Experts soon put the gusher of oil as high as 100,00 barrel a day. The amount of oil that spewed into the Gulf remain a matter of debate. But there isn't much disputing the disaster affected the Coast. The seafood industry was shut down. Tourism was off. The economic damage rippled through the economy, which already had been hammered by the Great Recession. BP pledged to pay to fix the damage both environmental and economic.

Ray, who lost his home in Long Beach to Katrina, wonders when.

"Nobody can tell you anything about if, when and where that's going to happen," he said. "I know there's a lot of legal wrangling being done. It's just a delay tactic. Delay. Delay. Delay.

"They just say we don't know."

He said he has gone so far as to write federal Judge Carl J. Barbier, who is overseeing the BP case, in February and got no answer from him.

"I talked to (Patrick) Juneau, who's supposed to be the claims administrator, I mean I talked to his office, and it's the same thing," he said. "Expect a call. But I don't get it.

"We asked are you talking about the next month, the next decade. They said we really can't tell you because each one is different.

He said he hears from the claims people when they want more information from him.

"In February, they asked three questions," he said. He said they responded far before the deadline and it had been almost 90 days since that response when he received a request for even more information last week.

Juneau's office didn't respond directly to a Sun Herald request for information about the status and possible completion date for the claims process. It did post an update last week on the claims website.

"The program will issue notices on a rolling basis as we complete reviews, and they will include eligibility notices, incompleteness notices and denial notices," the posting said.

Ray said he has checked the site and found nothing about his claim.

Of the 384,507 claims made, according to the site, 45,124, or about 12 percent, came from Mississippi. It also said, as of Tuesday, $7.6 billion in claims have been paid to 93,978 claimants. Some claimants have more than one claim.

For the 384,507 claims made, 355,772 claims notices have been issued saying they have either been approved, denied, the claimant has opted out or the claim has been withdrawn. Of those, 20,326 have been closed and 134,829 are listed as eligible for payment.

Ray is not alone. Another small business owner wrote Sound Off with a similar story.

In March, Florida Sen. Bill Nelson told McClatchy's Washington, D.C. Bureau he had written Juneau asking him to speed up the claims process. He said businesses packed up and left Florida because of the slow claims process. A spokesman for U.S. Rep. Steven Palazzo's office said the congressman hasn't had any inquiries about BP lately. His staff has been working on the RESTORE Act, which sets out how the BP settlement will be divided among the various states affected.

Ray wonders if someone is making money off the delays.

"At some point it looks like all it is is self-perpetuating jobs for people," he said. "Nobody has any incentive to conclude it. Every week it's extended, somebody gets a paycheck, whether it's judges or attorneys or all the other people."