CHAUVIN — An announcement that money paid for oil-cleanup work will be deducted from BP claims payments has riled fishermen who are working as part of the Deepwater Horizon spill response.
Attorney Kenneth Feinberg, who was hand-picked by President Barack Obama to oversee claims paid from a $20 billion oil spill fund set up by BP and the government, drew an angry response in Biloxi Friday night when he made the announcement at a community meeting.
“This is totally the opposite of what was said at community meetings in St. Bernard Parish months ago,” said George Barisich, president of the United Commercial Fisherman’s Association. “It’s a double-edged sword. Yes, you are working, but working with hazardous materials cleaning up their mess. Once they leave there is no telling what’s going to happen. You are working and doing their work for them. But for the fact that they blew the well I wouldn’t have to be doing hazardous work.”
Fishermen across the Gulf Coast have signed up to work for BP, which is using their vessels and crews to skim oil from the water, transport oiled wildlife and other tasks.
Individual vessels are paid as much as $2,000 per day and crews are separately compensated. Vessel owners as well as individual crew members who applied for claims are affected by the rule.
The subject was broached in an FAQ sheet for the BP Vessels of Opportunity program, which includes the question, “I am receiving payment under the Vessels of Opportunity program; will this affect my loss of income claim?”
The answer supplied is, “Those who participate in the VOO Program can file claims for damages or lost income due to the Deepwater Horizon incident and the spill in the Gulf of Mexico.”
BP spokesman Mark Proegler said the statement makes clear that “participation in the VOO program does not preclude participation in the claims program.”
“However, since the intent of the claims program is to make people whole with respect to lost income, any income generated from the VOO program would be netted against the claim amount,” Proegler said.
Kimberly Chauvin, whose family has three boats from Chauvin operating near the Chandeleur Islands, was not pleased by news of Feinberg’s clarification.
Payments to fishermen for spill-related work and the claims are not just cold financial recompense but damages for the loss of a fishing heritage.
“That’s a hard hit for us,” she said. “They never told us. We were among the first 25 vessels to go. If I knew, would it have stopped me? No, because we wanted to clean up as much as possible to keep it from getting into our estuaries. Did they mail this out to every VOO program participant? If they didn’t, why not?”
Chauvin and other vessel owners in Terrebonne Parish said they are concerned about the rule because people who did not work to clean up the oil — because they didn’t want to or because BP never called them — will not have their claims set off by anything, while the ones who worked will.
“I am working to clean up their mess because now everything is closed down,” Chauvin said. “How do you penalize someone for cleaning up your mess?”
Anna Luke of Houma said she asked the same question at a community meeting in Grand Isle, before Feinberg took over the claims process, and was told “nothing would be deducted from anything.”
Her husband Henry is currently running a 29-foot boat out of Cocodrie for BP. She first heard of the policy when Feinberg appeared Thursday in Houma. The steady money working for BP provides, however, makes the news a little easier to take.
James Blanchard of Chauvin said he was not surprised by the disclosure, though he also questions whether it is fair to those who worked to stem the spill.
“I had kind of heard it but I never knew for sure how it was going. But it is what I was thinking it was going to be from the get-go,” Blanchard said. “I am thankful we are able to work right now and make up for some lost time. But we may not know for years the impact this is going to have on the shrimp fishery. Will we still be feeling the effects five years or 10 years from now, and will that be reflected in the claims process?”
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