Posted: Jun 25, 2010 6:04 PM by Melissa Canone
LAROSE, La. (AP) - Kenneth Feinberg, the lawyer who handled
payouts for families of Sept. 11 victims and will administer the
$20 billion fund set up to compensate victims of the BP oil spill
in the Gulf of Mexico, spent about an hour Friday answering
questions and explaining how the process will work.
A crowd of about 100 people asked questions and made suggestions
on what would work best for the fishermen, charter boat captains,
seafood processors and others who have seen their businesses and
incomes disappear because of the spill.
"A program like this cannot be administered from Washington,"
Feinberg told the crowd. "You have to come down here in person and
listen to what people are saying."
Feinberg promised to do that - he had another town hall-type
meeting scheduled for later in the day in Violet, La.
The program should be able to move from BP's operation to his in
30 days, Feinberg said. Claims already filed with BP would be valid
in the new program, he added.
"We're not going to close anything down," he said. "I am
going to add people. They have to be local people who know
Feinberg urged those present to file claims, saying they were
entitled to the monthly money BP was paying to replace lost income.
Once the spill is stopped, he said, they will begin to figure out
final settlements. Those will be difficult, he acknowledged, but he
promised every effort would be made to be fair.
"We will lean over backward to do all we can for you," he
Those accepting BP checks to cover expenses now will not be
limited in placing final claims or suing the oil company, he said.
Once final claims are computed, victims will have a chance to
decide if the amounts are fair, and if they are, they will sign
away their ability to sue BP, he said.
"I believe what BP has done with this administration is the way
to go," Feinberg said.
Litigation could take years, he said. And it might not be
successful. If it were, the attorneys would take 40 percent of the
payout, he said.
"There is absolutely no sense at all in driving BP into
bankruptcy," Feinberg said. "That would be a disaster."
The $20 billion is to handle compensation and clean up, Feinberg
said. It will be used at about $5 billion a year for four years, he
said. If it is insufficient, BP has agreed to add to it.
"I think this guy is pretty good from what I hear," said
Donald Punch, who operates a seafood store in Lockport, La. "I
like that it won't be the government doing it or BP."
For many of those attending, money, even when badly needed, was
not the only thing on their minds.
"I wish you and BP would stop saying you will make us whole
again," said Kim Chauvin, of Chauvin, La., whose sons are the
fifth generation of shrimpers in her family. "There is nothing
that can make these communities whole again. Not with what we have
lost and what we might still lose."
Dean Blanchard, who worked for 28 years to build his processing
plant business on Grand Isle, agreed.
Money, he said, might help, but it won't compensate him for
almost three decades of hard work - or his heritage.
"Everything I get up for in the morning is gone," he said. "I
tell you, man, you took my life away from me."
Feinberg said the frustration and anger he found people
suffering was much like what the victims of Sept. 11 went through.
"It's just like that," he said. "They did nothing wrong,
nothing to deserve this. They were just in the wrong place at the
wrong time. All we can do is help them get back on their feet and
survive. I can't give them back their heritage or the decades of
work they've done."