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TALLAHASSEE -- As far as State Rep. Dorothy Hukill is concerned, actions speak louder than words. With that said, she's willing to give Kenneth Feinberg the benefit of the doubt.
Feinberg, the Obama Administration's head of the Gulf Coast Claims Facility testified Feb. 18, before the House Economic Affairs Committee chaired by Hukill, R-Port Orange, on painfully slow processing of claims by Florida Gulf Coast businesses, especially those in the Panhandle in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon incident, more commonly referred to as the BP oil disaster.
"He was much more positive and admitted there have been mistakes," Hukill said. "The process hasn't been as transparent as the president has said, but Mr. Feinberg has promised to move a lot of investigators to Florida and in the Panhandle, especially, to handle the outstanding claims."
The process was supposed to be quick, efficient and with those impacted made whole, but that didn't happen, Hukill said, but added she was optimistic after Feinberg's hour-long grilling from committee members.
"It is evident that there have been some significant breakdowns within the Gulf Coast Claims Facility and their management of the private compensation process," Hukill said, herself pledging after Feinberg's appearance: "We will further examine this issue, but I believe that specific changes need to be made to the way the Gulf Coast Claims Facility currently operates, and that those changes will need to be implemented in a timely and efficient manner."
Hukill added, "I look forward to receiving the final methodology Mr. Feinberg promised would be released."
While the spill has dissipated, Florida's hospitality industry has been severely impacted, especially in this sluggish economy,, something Hukill understands all too well as an experienced Tallahassee politician whose works goes far beyond the borders of her Southeast Volusia district that encompasses greater Port Orange, as well as New Smyrna Beach, Edgewater, Oak Hill and the adjoining unincorporated areas, which is why she holds a leadership position.
Hukill's committee followed a call to arms of Feinberg from Associate Attorney General Thomas J. Perrelli of the Department of Justice in a Feb. 4 letter, stating in part: "As I have previously discussed with you, it is essential that the individuals and businesses most affected by the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill are fairly treated by the Gulf Coast Claims Facility ("GCCF"). Over the past nine months, that overarching goal and the need for the GCCF to comply with the Oil Pollution Act have led us to ask that you make several changes, from the continuation of interim payments to the payment of all emergency advance payments by December 15. Thank you for fulfilling those requests."
He added in part, "The GCCF is, however, entering another critical period for the people of the Gulf. April 20, 2010 ushered in a lost season for many in the Gulf, as communities, businesses, and workers that depend on a summer of strong revenue saw their bookings drop, their ships stay in port, and their hours cut. To ensure that 2011 is not a lost season as well, and to turn the page on the spill, the next few weeks and months will be critical."
Hukill said Florida can ill afford to have its tourism industry hampered further because of the claims fiasco.
"These businesses in the Panhandle are still suffering because of the perception that the beaches are suspect and the food suspect," Hukill said. "This is a concern all the way down to Naples. I told Mr. Feinberg I was cautiously optimistic, but that we will be watching him."