By: Bill Kaczor, Associated Press
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- The administrator of a class-action settlement between petroleum giant BP and oil spill claimants said Tuesday that more than 34,000 Florida businesses and individuals so far have been approved to receive $332 million.
Patrick Juneau was in Tallahassee to meet with state officials and spread the word about the settlement. He appeared before a Florida Senate committee Tuesday and will visit with Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet on Wednesday.
Juneau said $245 million so far has been paid to the businesses and individuals approved in Florida.
"There are a lot more, a lot more eligible claims in your state, which have not been filed," Juneau told the Senate Agriculture Committee. "I know that."
He said he couldn't estimate how many, but his job is to educate people damaged by the spill, including lost business and wages, about the settlement and help them qualify for reimbursement. Tuesday was the deadline for seafood businesses and individuals to apply, but others have until April 2014.
Florida accounts for about a fifth of the $1.3 billion paid in the five Gulf Coast states to date, Juneau said.
The agreement covers damages caused by the blowout of BP's Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico off Louisiana in 2010. It triggered an explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig that killed 11 workers and spilled more than 200 million gallons of oil out of the well.
The western Panhandle was the only portion of Florida where oil came ashore. Virtually the entire state, though, suffered economic damages as prospective tourists stayed away due to the perception of oil-soaked beaches.
Besides the settlement, Juneau oversaw the payment of $404 million in claims he inherited from the Gulf Coast Claims Facility after a federal judge appointed him to supervise implementation of the agreement. The previous effort led by Kenneth Feinberg had paid out more than $6 billion before the court-supervised settlement was approved last year.
"It's a settlement agreement on steroids because it's big, it's complex," Juneau said. "It's the most detailed, transparent settlement agreement that's ever been negotiated that I'm aware of in the history of the United States."
In response to lawmakers' questions, Juneau said people who signed final agreements with the Gulf Coast Claims Facility cannot seek additional payments from the settlement.
The biggest obstacle to approving payments to other claimants is verifying their losses through tax returns, pay stubs or other documents Juneau said. He said his staff has devised alternate documentation such as sworn statements by employers to help those who lack sufficient paperwork.
Juneau has nearly 500 staffers and six claimant assistance centers in Florida stretching along the Gulf Coast from Pensacola to Naples.