First major BP claim check arrives in St. Pete Beach

Erica Pitzi
WTSP-News 10, Tampa Bay
October 28, 2010
Tampa Bay

St. Pete Beach, FL - It has been six months of suffering for The Alden Beach Resort that has been on St. Pete Beach for forty years.

"The cancellations came pretty strong that last week in April, then all of May, June, July, " said Gary Renfrow, owner of The Alden Beach Resort.

Refrow says he lost more than $300,000 in profits since the BP oil spill because tourists thought there was oil on the beach even though we never saw a drop. So, he filed a claim with the oil company but he worried he wouldn't get paid.

"We had heard the company said properties that did not experience tangible oil on their beaches might not receive any settlement. Everybody thought the worst - that we wouldn't get a penny," said Renfrow.

Five weeks later, the check came in the mail. "I was thrilled. Thank God, I was sitting down when the check came!" laughed Renfrow who got the check on Friday.

BP paid 100% of The Alden's claim.

So far, BP has paid out nearly $600 million in claims to Floridians and that is just emergency claims from a loss of profits in only the past six months. The next step is to file a final claim for future damages. That is harder to prove because businesses have to predict the future. It would mean a much bigger payout, according to The Alden's lawyer, Tony Buzbee, who represents more than 50 hotels in Pinellas County.

Buzbee, of The Buzbee Law Firm in Houston, has sued BP more than any other firm in the country. He currently represents 15,000 clients in this case, including the workers who were on the Deep Water Horizon rig when it exploded. Buzbee says he doesn't expect a lawsuit here.

"I think these are significant claims with sophisticated parties. I don't think any of them want to be in a class action and we're not pursuing it like that," Buzbee told 10 News by phone Wednesday night.

Renfrow agrees but still worries the loss of business could last even longer if repeat customers who skipped out this year do not come back.

"This impact could for last several years," said Renfrow.

You would think since the Bay area did not see any oil that claims paid out in this area would be significantly less than those up in the panhandle or in Louisiana where oil covered their beaches. It turns out, according to Buzbee, there is not a big difference in dollar amounts.

Renfrow hopes his payout means more money is headed to his fellow beach businesses.