Many In Gulf On Road To Uncertain Compensation Many business owners in the Gulf, from plumbers to beauticians, are filing claims with BP. The ultimate decision about compensation is in the hands of administrator Kenneth Feinberg, unless people want to try their luck in court.
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Many In Gulf On Road To Uncertain Compensation

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Many In Gulf On Road To Uncertain Compensation

Many In Gulf On Road To Uncertain Compensation

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The economic devastation from the Gulf spill is reaching well beyond the fishing and tourism industries. Everyone from plumbers to beauticians say they're feeling the pain.

But as NPR's Tovia Smith reports, they don't know if they'll ever get anything from BP's compensation fund.

TOVIA SMITH: While scientists watch to see if oil might make its way through the entire marine food chain, Gulf residents have already seen their economic food chain spoiled, from the fishermen and oil rig workers way on down.

Unidentified Male #1: Even the laundry guy.

Unidentified Male #2: That's right.

Unidentified Male #1: We all feeling it.

SMITH: With no one fishing and many restaurants hurting for business, so is Scott Burke(ph), who launders and rents table cloths and napkins about half hour outside New Orleans.

Mr. SCOTT BURKE (Owner, Loop Linen Service Inc.): As you can see, there's no one working.

SMITH: Washing machines that usually run till 9:00 at night are off at 4:00. And linens usually out at restaurants are piled high on shelves.

Mr. BURKE: As the restaurants slow down, we slow down. It's just a trickle-down effect.

SMITH: And the trickle doesn't stop at Burke.

Mr. BURKE: They're people that supply me. So I'm not using as many chemicals to wash. I'm not buying linen because there's just not a demand. So, everyone's feeling the pinch.

SMITH: And trying to make a claim. Even a local plumber hired a lawyer. Shucking oysters tends to muck up the drain pipes in restaurant kitchens, but no shucking means no clogging, and now he's sitting around, just one of the many wondering if he's eligible for compensation, like Kim Truong(ph), who owns the Paradise Nail Salon.

Ms. KIM TRUONG (Owner, Paradise Nail Salon): We have no customers. We're very slow, you know, like, almost like 40 percent drop down. And so I ask a lot of people, but they say, my husband, no job. They cannot have the extra money to do the nail. That's why I worry a lot.

SMITH: Truong says she tried filing a claim with BP, showing old tax returns and receipts from this year but got nowhere.

Ms. TRUONG: But they tell if you do the restaurant, the seafood restaurant. I said, you know, nail salon. But they say, you know, they don't know yet they can help me out or not.

SMITH: The administrator of BP's $20 billion compensation fund, Ken Feinberg, says who gets paid will be his call. The guy who owns a beachfront motel on the Gulf? Sure. Real estate brokers who aren't renting as much? Probably. But a golf course 50 miles away? Even if business is way down, Feinberg says probably not.

Mr. KENNETH FEINBERG (Administrator, BP Compensation Fund): That's a judgment call. At some point, you have to make a call. These claims are eligible, these claims are not eligible. I could be wrong. You people could draw the line somewhere else.

SMITH: 59-year-old Preston Mayeaux knows where he would draw the line. He walked into a BP claims center this week seeking compensation because he says the property value has plummeted at the small cabin he owns on Bayou John Charles, and he says because he can no longer enjoy summer weekends on the oily water.

Mr. PRESTON MAYEAUX: Well, I lost my - the golden year that I wanted to be able to go to my fishing camp. And how do you put a price on that? I don't know how you put a price on that.

SMITH: Apparently, neither did the BP claims official who Mayeaux says gave him a lot more pushback than sympathy.

Mr. MAYEAUX: Well, he says, well, I mean, it happens, you know? Things happen. I said, yeah, I understand that. But, you know, what caused the thing? Now, if it's something that came from the skies, that's one thing. But if it's something that comes from greed and if it's proven that they're reckless, and I think it will be, then I think people should be compensated for it.

SMITH: For its part, BP wasn't commenting, but the company has repeatedly insisted it will pay, quote, "every legitimate claim."

State Senator JOHN ALARIO JR. (Democrat, Louisiana): That's the magic word. What would be considered legitimate? I think some people would end up having to go to court to prove what is legitimate.

SMITH: That's Louisiana State Senator John Alario Jr.

State Sen. ALARIO: It's yet to be seen just how fair they're going to be. We can only go by trust at this point.

SMITH: Feinberg doesn't disagree. His offers will all be driven by what he thinks someone would be able to get if they chose instead to sue BP. Those further down the food chain who are not happy with his offer, Feinberg says, can try their luck in court. But I don't think they're going to win, Feinberg says. I think they're on a fool's mission.

Tovia Smith, NPR News, Westwego, Louisiana.

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