Manatee’s oil spill claims payments total $9.8 million

skennedy@bradenton.comApril 23, 2011 

MANATEE -- Claims paid resulting from last year’s gulf oil spill total $9.8 million so far in Manatee County, with Sarasota County’s payments totaling $7.4 million.

Altogether, there have been 671 claims paid in Manatee and 575 in Sarasota from BP’s $20 billion restitution fund, the documents said.

The money was paid to compensate for lost business, rather than actual oil damage, since no oil ever touched the shores of either county.

Gulf Coast Claims Facility documents showed that 155 residents of Manatee County collected $1.9 million, averaging $12,161.79. In Sarasota County, 191 residents collected $1.8 million, averaging $9,643.78.

Payments to claimants who live in Manatee and lost income or profits from a business activity here received a total of $5.85 million, averaging $19,196.69 each. In Sarasota, claimants were paid $4.4 million, averaging $16,714.58 each.

One local businessman who grows clams for a living at Terra Ceia said he had filed a claim for lost sales in May, June and July of last year, after his business ground to a virtual halt despite the fact that no oil ever reached Manatee County. He is still awaiting a final settlement.

“Everything we had is mathematically cut-and-dried,” said Curtis Hemmel, managing director of Bay Shellfish Co., which sells live clams in commercial and retail markets.

Hemmel said he was able to precisely calculate his losses, and sales have returned to where they were before the spill that began in April 2010.

But he has trouble answering the question whether he’s still affected.

“Yes, because we have less customers than we had before,” he said. “We worked harder to overcome competition, we cut our price, we worked harder,” he said.

And, there was an intangible cost: “We were so scared from what happened last year -- you can’t quantify that,” Hemmel said.

Gulf Coast Claims Facility reported that those who suffered a loss of income or profits from business activity but are located elsewhere, got slightly more than $2 million, averaging $9,841.68 each in Manatee. To date, the claims facility has processed over 78 percent of all interim and final claims received, it said on its website.

The Manatee total does not include the $43,412.77 paid to Manatee County for staff time spent planning emergency preparations, said Amy Weiss, a spokeswoman for the Gulf Coast Claims Facility.

The claims facility, acting on behalf of responsible party BP, only pays individual and business claims, while the oil company is paying government claims, she said.

Generally speaking, most businesses affected in Florida have gotten some form of an emergency payment, said Keith Overton, the immediate past chairman of the board of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, representing 10,000 members across the state.

Negotiations for longer-term settlements probably will begin in June, he said.

For claims information, go to the Internet website www.gulfcoastclaimsfacility.com, or e-mail info@gccf-claims.com; or call toll-free 1-800-916-4893.

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