More than 34,000 individuals and businesses in Florida have been approved for $322 million in compensation for damages stemming from BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill, but more than that are likely eligible, said Patrick Juneau, the court-appointed administrator of $20-billion in relief funds provided through the Deepwater Horizon Claims Center.
“There are a lot more, a lot more eligible claims in your state, which have not been filed,” Juneau told a Florida Senate Committee. “I know that.” When Mr. Juneau took the reins from Kenneth Feinberg and the Gulf Coast Claims Center, the claims fund had about $13.6 billion remaining.
Mr. Juneau is in Tallahassee to this week to meet with state officials and to get the word out about those untapped funds available to Florida residents and businesses who were negatively impacted by the 2010 oil spill. Florida’s tourism industry took a massive hit from the oil spill, which deterred millions of visitors from visiting the state in 2010 and 2011, even in parts of the state unaffected by the spill.
The toll that the lack of visitors took on Florida’s travel and hospitality industries rippled ultimately throughout the state’s economy. In 2010, when the BP’s Macondo well still gushed out of control, a University of Central Florida report projected the state’s oil-spill generated losses could amount to a “terrifying” 195,000 jobs and $11 billion in revenue.
Fortunately, Florida’s losses haven’t quite lived up to those fears, but diminished revenues nevertheless show the oil spill had a systemic impact on the state’s revenues, affecting individuals and businesses across a range of industries from agriculture to retail.
The deadline for businesses and individuals claiming seafood-related losses was Tuesday, but others have until April 2014 to file a claim with the DHCC. So far, Florida accounts for about a fifth of the $1.3 billion paid across the five Gulf States.
Mr. Juneau said that verifying losses through pay stubs, tax returns, and other documents has been the biggest obstacle to verifying claims and making payments. To facilitate the process, the DHCC has begun accepting alternate documentation of losses, such as sworn statements by employers.
Mr. Juneau said that the terms of the settlement agreement reached between BP and the Plaintiffs Steering Committee in March of last year were enormous.
“It’s a settlement agreement on steroids because it’s big, it’s complex,” Juneau said. “It’s the most detailed, transparent settlement agreement that’s ever been negotiated that I’m aware of in the history of the United States.”