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One year after the historic BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, restaurateurs are still trying to convince tourists to come back to the region.
There is a constant murmur during the July 27, 2010, Congressional hearing before the Committee on Energy and Commerce. As politicians shuffle in and out from their burgundy leather seats, Ken Feinberg, made famous for distributing insurance claims to 9/11 victims and their families, stays still, hunched over the tabletop microphone in front of him. He is at the end of the table and photographers from the nation’s biggest news organizations are seated on the floor below him, snapping away as he answers questions about how he will distribute the $20 billion dedicated by BP to repay damages from the historic oil spill. “I answer to the people of the Gulf, not the administration or BP,” Feinberg says in a thick New England accent that stands in stark contrast to the genteel dialects of the four men seated to his left.
Along with Feinberg are restaurant and tourism leaders from the Gulf Coast. They have come all the way from their oceanfront businesses to the stagnant heat and humidity of the nation’s capital to plead their case. They want to set the record straight, they want money, and they want them both now. “The rest of the world and the rest of America need to know that it’s safe to get back in the water,” says Rip Daniels, vice president of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Tourism Commission
“Many ask if there’s oil on the doorsteps of New Orleans; and New Orleans is miles inland,” says Ralph Brennan, president of Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group in New Orleans, to the group of legislators looking back at him. There is desperation in his voice, along with the others who have come to request $500 million in marketing funds to reverse what the talking heads have done over the last 12 weeks. “The media must be held accountable for its actions,” says Keith Overton, chairman of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, explaining that after the President’s visit to Pensacola, Florida, a cable channel superimposed dripping oil over the background of its coverage of the even
Despite the 12 months that have passed since the explosion, many business owners are still wading through paperwork along with the nearly half a million other claims being handled by Feinberg’s teams. “Everybody got their first emergency funds,” says Mueller, whose company filed eight moving boxes worth of tax returns and past P&L sheets to its local claims office. “Now we’re starting all over again. We’re in the refile mode.”