Florida Gulf claims top $2 billion

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Michael Peltier of the News Service of Florida reports that Florida individuals and businesses have so far received more than $2 billion in payouts because of the BP oil spill but the going may get tougher for some with federal overseers having earlier this week tightened requirements for future payments under the $20 billion program.

Citing signs of economic recovery around the region, the Gulf Coast Claims Facility has said publicly that the effects of the April 2010 spill are dissipating rapidly. The group reiterated that message on Tuesday with a notice on its website that modifications were being made to its payout parameters.

“It is clear, that as time passes, it becomes increasingly difficult to determine whether changes in revenue and earnings are due to the oil spill or other factors,” the notice reads.

As of Tuesday, the GCCF had received 314,098 claims from 190,831 separate individuals and businesses in Florida who say their livelihoods were affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill that shut down fisheries and kept vacation rentals empty all along the Gulf Coast. So far, the GCCF has paid 148,623 claimants a total of $2.05 billion.

The payouts represent about 41 percent of the $5.1 billion in GCCF payouts to individuals and businesses in all Gulf states affected by the spill. In all, the agency run by Ken Feinberg has resolved requests from 447,544 claimants, about 85 percent of those who have filed.

In Florida, Okaloosa County claimants have collected $479 million while nearly $420 million in payments have gone to private parties in Bay County. Escambia County claimants have so far received $259.2 million.

But coastal businesses aren’t the only recipients. A Gilchrist County resident has collected $21,880 while a claimant in inland Glades County has received $23,400 from four claims filed.

Others are still waiting, Shannon Hartsfield, president of the Franklin County Seafood Workers Association, is still seeking payment for losses to his commercial fishing livelihood.

“I haven’t heard anything from them,” said Hartsfield, whose initial final claim request was denied.

Florida’s cities and counties have collected more than $31 million from BP for efforts to respond to and clean up the worst oil spill in U.S. history, according to the latest figures tracked by the company.

Also Tuesday, the agency published a change to its final settlement protocol as it tries to limit future payments as the economic effects of the spill lessen with the return of tourists to the region.

Citing local and state revenue figures, the agency has said that much of the economy has rebounded and payment in many cases should begin tailing off.

The agency also spelled out a mechanism for further determining whether the losses were really caused by the spill. The GCCF said in its new rules that if a claimant can now show they’re starting to recover along with the rest of the economy, it can be presumed their losses were spill related. If they’re not bouncing back, then something else is wrong and the losses weren’t related to the spill.

Florida oyster harvesters with unused leases located west of Apalachicola Bay will continue to be eligible for benefits for lost business for 2011 under a formula established by the GCCF that takes into account freshwater intrusion, oil contamination and damage caused by recovery efforts. Oyster bed leaseholders east of Apalachicola Bay will not be eligible for future losses.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.