Posted on January 10, 2011 at 5:22 PM
Updated yesterday at 7:01 PM
BAY ST. LOUIS, Miss. -- On a cold day in Bay St. Louis, oil spill claims czar Ken Feinberg got a chilly reception. A large crowd of people voiced their anger over the way they were treated by the process designed to provide emergency help.
"I'm telling you ma'am, I'm very sympathetic to you," Feinberg said. "I am, I am. I'll do my best, thank you."
Ken Feinberg's voice rose as he found himself surrounded by a crowd of angry oil spill victims at a Bay St. Louis public meeting. They were fed up with the claims process, and they told him so.
"I spend 30 hours a week at your claims office. Don't tell me you got new people at this office. I'm there," one man told Feinberg face-to-face.
Afterward, Feinberg told me he understood their anger and desperation.
"But I must say I have to come back here and face the music. You cannot simply ignore folks like this."
And he couldn't. Feinberg described changes he is planning to make the claims process better and more transparent, but he received a barrage of complaints.
"They pay my son, and turned me down. We fish on the same boat with the same license," said one person at the meeting.
"My 11-year-old child has tested positive for the chemicals from the oil. Who is going to see him?" said another person at the meeting.
One after another they described being turned down unjustly, forcing Feinberg to offer on-the-spot help.
"I got 62 pages of documentation. 62 pages," said one angry man. "Everything y'all asked for I provided. Y'all say 30 to 90 days away for a minimum claim to be paid for? What is my family supposed to do until then?"
Feinberg said he wanted the man's claim and name.
"Anybody who is denied a claim by the GCCF can immediately go to the Coast Guard," said Feinberg. "If they don't like the amount they received they can go to the Coast Guard for review. That's always been under the law."
Those at the meeting pointed out tar balls are still washing up on Gulf Coast beaches. Feinberg pointed out he is working with experts to try and determine how long before this area recovers. But when he said while that decision is being made, it will be 30 days before the next round of payments begins.
That brought new worries for some people.
"Now they're telling me it is going to take 90 days for me to go through this interim process, which I don't have 90 days, because next week, I'm not going to have money to eat with. My lights will be turned off."
Some thanked Feinberg for the payments he sent. Others left still angry and worried about the future.
Feinberg held a second town hall Monday evening in Grand Isle. Other meetings are planned Tuesday, one at 10:30 a.m. at the City Park Multi-Purpose Complex, 4917 City Park Dr., Lafitte; and a second at 1 p.m. at the East Houma Recreation Center in Houma.