Exclusive: Feinberg compromises on St. Bernard’s GCCF office closureNov 14th, 2011 | By William Dilella | Category: Top Story
Following the recent announcement that the local St. Bernard Gulf Coast Claims Facility (GCCF) office was set to be shut-down, Parish officials convened a press conference, to collectively and publicly state that they vehemently opposed the closure of the office, as many claims with commercial fishermen remain open. As a result, Kenneth Feinberg said in an interview with The St. Bernard Voice, that he would keep the facility operating at least one day a week to accommodate the parish community still waiting for results.
The word came down earlier this week that several Gulf Coast offices, including the St. Bernard location— part of the offices at Judge Perez and Judy Drive—would be shut down due to a lack of foot traffic using the services offered.
“As a result of our ongoing review of the GCCF Site Offices, we have consolidated the operations of several additional GCCF Claims Site offices throughout the Gulf,” said the official statement from the Gulf Coast Claims Facility representatives. “The consolidation of these offices continues the effort of the GCCF to optimize and provide the most efficient way to assist claimants by consolidating and reassigning our most knowledgeable staff with experience in GCCF processes and procedures to the busiest GCCF Claims Office facilities experiencing the highest volume and frequency of visiting claimants.”
As a result of that decision, parish government met outside the GCCF office on November 8, presenting a united front against such a shut down.
“Our primary purpose for calling the press conference today is to try to bring awareness to the need to keep this particular claims facility operational,” said Parish President Craig Taffaro. “Our fishermen, our businesses, have largely gone unsatisfied in terms of their complaints process.”
“We have reached out to our congressional leadership,” Taffaro continued. “Sen. Vitter, Sen. Landrieu, Congressman Landry, and requested they intervene for us at the federal level. All three delegates have said they would do so.”
At the press conference, Taffaro also cited repeated assurances by Feinberg and representatives at his firm, that he would come to the Parish and meet face-to-face with both officials and select members from the commercial fishing community. The goal of the meeting, according to Taffaro, is to have people actually going through the claims process at the local level, explain the problems and deficiencies in the process.
To date, no such meeting has occurred.
The meeting was purportedly scheduled to occur before the claims facility closed its doors on November 15.
“So we held this conference to again remind Mr. Feinberg, and to urge [him] that shutting down this GCCF office here in St. Bernard would be the wrong message,” Taffaro said. “We have thousands, thousands of claimants that have still gone unsatisfied with their particular claims.”
Taffaro cited reports, claiming 40-percent of those who have filed within the parish have still gone unfulfilled. In addition, community response outlined that the spill most effected parishes like St. Bernard, and to now ask those effected to travel outside of their home parish is only further punishing those who are already suffering.
“We believe it is extremely unfair to now make [the claimants] travel outside the parish, to areas where the impact was minimal in comparison,” said Councilman-at-Large East Wayne Landry. “BP was the responsible party, and all we’re asking them to act responsibly.”
Landry also argued that the process is already flawed in favor of those settling the claims, and not the claimants themselves.
“People are coming over and over again, and their claim still haven’t been processed,” Landry continued. “And some of those people are taking less than $10,000 just to be done with it.”
That amounts to pennies on the dollar for what a commercial fishermen makes, and what many lost, according to Councilman Fred Everhardt.
“We still have a lot of commercial fisherman, who have still not been adequately paid out for what their claims were,” Everhardt said. “As of now, fishermen are still hurting, and we need to find someway to speed up [Feinberg’s] methodology.”
“I think it is ill advised that this office would be closed,” Councilman-at-Large West Frank Auderer said.
Auderer expressed concerns about the further time that claimants would have to put in to the process, especially if the office was closed in St. Bernard. “Every day a fisherman has to take off, he does not get paid…the quicker it gets done, the faster they get back to work.”
Feinberg fires back
“There is no requisite [number of claims], I have to make that decision based on the amount of traffic,” Feinberg said, who cited that the office in St. Bernard has been responsible for only one new claim per month now. “It is simply a question of the volume no longer warranting to keep the office open.”
Feinberg did say that the facility would remain open for local access, with the schedule adjusted to incorporate the reduced foot traffic and the need in the community.
“However, in light of the criticism, we will agree to keep the office open for one day a week, and if there are claimants who can’t come into the office on that particular day, they can then schedule an appointment,” Feinberg said.
“I don’t want this to get over-blown,” Feinberg said.
Regarding the meeting upcoming with local fishermen and officials, Feinberg confirmed that he agreed to meet with officials while at a recent conference in New Orleans.
But in regard to what was delaying that meeting, Feinberg said he requested a list of actual claims to review from Parish Presidents and any from fishing associations and organizations, so that when he returned, he could have answers for real-world scenarios in the process.
“I promised at the meeting in New Orleans…to come back and meet, particularly with shrimpers,” Feinberg said. “And we are going to do something with shrimpers.”
Feinberg spoke with Parish Presidents and members of the shrimping community, such as Clint Guidry of the Louisiana Shrimpers Association, and requested a list of claimants. Guidry confirmed that this was the case, and said that Feinberg had requested such documentation.
However, Guidry also said, even though Feinberg is right about addressing individual claimants and their problems with the process, the problem still remains of adjusting the process to make the entire industry right again.
“I think the issue is his agreement to come up with a formula to satisfy the industry,” Guidry said, who has been working as part of the Louisiana Shrimpers Association to resolve the issues. But Guidry said the original claims process, and what he felt were the denials of legitimate claims, drove many to attorneys, and now entire firms are handling bulk cases of clients. And those class actions suits, for Guirdy, impede the process he’s tried to work with, but seen ostracize his industry.
“Now, I’m not dealing with a person, but the whole firm,” Guidry said. “I’m going to take the hit for this, because Kenneth Feinberg approached me, asked for names…I don’t think he gets that we want a better formula for the whole industry, not 15 people.”
When hearing word of Feinberg’s comments, President Taffaro responded that the issue of the office is clearly procedural, and that limiting the hours is still a detriment to the parish.
“I don’t think it is appropriate for him to shut [the office] down until we have had a change in the efficiency and effectiveness of the facility,” Taffaro said. “To shut it down and say we are going to keep it open one day a week is an admission that their process is flawed.”
The St. Bernard site was scheduled for shut down on November 15, along with several sites in Alabama, Florida, and still more scattered through out Louisiana.
As of August 23, 2010, GCCF and the law firm Feinberg Rozen, both overseen by Kenneth Feinberg, took over operation and distribution of the $20 billion escrow fund established by BP to fulfill claims and other legal obligations of the company stemming from the Deepwater Horizon explosion and subsequent spill into the Gulf.