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Oil spill claims administrator Patrick Juneau in Hancock County: Let's finish what we set out to do
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Oil spill claims administrator Patrick Juneau in Hancock County: Let's finish what we set out to do

As BP was bidding on new areas of the Gulf to drill Wednesday, oil spill claims administrator Patrick Juneau stopped by Hancock County to follow up on the more than $4 million in grants given to 12 Coast tourism organizations.

The Hancock Chamber of Commerce and Bay St. Louis Rotary Club hosted a luncheon to express gratitude for the money and show its impact on the area.

Juneau said he was glad to be a part of the recovery process.

"The reason I'm here is because I have an obligation to follow up on these grants and make sure they're all that they said they were going to be," he said.

He also talked about the claims process, as April 22 is the final deadline to file.

In Mississippi, he said, 31,490 claims have been filed so far and 5,919 of them were eligible to receive funding.

"You don't meet the test, we don't pay," he said.

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BP has criticized Juneau for approving claims by businesses who did not have losses caused directly by the spill. The oil giant has been trying to revise the original settlement and has filed court injunctions asking to postpone payments and restrict the amount of claims it has to pay.

"I don't want that to happen," said Juneau, emphasizing he wants the process to continue uninterrupted.

BP's most recent attempt to halt payouts was stopped by the federal appeals court earlier this month. On Wednesday, a judge also denied the company's request to delay payments to seafood workers through the Seafood Compensation Fund.

Juneau stressed his job was only to implement the settlement agreement with BP, and said it has not always been an easy one.

"It's like being a clay pigeon in a shooting gallery sometimes," he told the audience, adding it won't deter him from getting the job done.

Chamber Executive Director Tish Williams thanked him for his efforts and said the grants helped the three Coast counties get more than $1.7 billion from tourists and visitors in 2013, according to the latest report by the Mississippi Development Authority. That number is slightly up from the year before, she said.

"Tourism is the Coast's primary economic engine," she said.

The grant money was provided through the $57 million Gulf Tourism and Seafood Promotional Fund, part of the settlement with BP.

With the money, the chamber was able to start a website aimed at recruiting retirees and those shopping for second homes. It also provides a centralized listing of homes for sale and vacation rentals.

"(Hancock County's) tourism market is primarily the second home market that got wiped away from Katrina and now we're trying to bring those people back," Williams said.

The Charter Boat Captains Association used its $164,150 grant to host a monthlong fishing tournament that drew nearly 800 participants. Bobby Williams with the association said they plan to add a week and a women's division to this year's tournament, which starts July 11.

Initiatives by grant recipients include a book promoting tourism by the Gulf Coast Writers Association and funding of a business resource center by the Hancock Community Development Foundation that provides assistance to seafood businesses.

"There is a lot of work left to be done," Juneau said. "Let's finish what we set out to do."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Article by: Lauren Walck


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