NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Louisiana oyster industry leaders say BP PLC has yet to honor a $15 million commitment to help oyster farmers, processors and dealers recover from last year's oil spill.
Members of a state oyster task force joined state officials in New Orleans Friday to discuss the spill, which began after the BP leased rig Deepwater Horizon exploded on April 20, 2011, killing 11 workers. They said the money was promised last fall. It would be used to restore seeding areas affected by the spill.
"Without that $15 million down payment. It could be devastating to the oyster community," said Mike Voisin, head of a family-owned oyster processing and sales business in Terrebonne Parish."
Voisin said the industry typically puts $360 million into the state economy in a given year. It's been half this past year and will likely be about half that in the coming years until oyster beds are fully restored. He said it typically takes three to four years for an oyster to grow to market size. Officials said the restoration efforts would include the placing of "cultch" material on which oyster larvae grow. Some would also be used to research seeding and growing techniques that would speed growth.
A BP spokeswoman did not immediately return a call for comment.
"There was definitely a verbal agreement," said Randy Pausina, assistant secretary of the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. Garret Graves, head of the state's coastal restoration efforts agreed.
Participants in Friday's news conference also complained about the slow processing of claims by the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, the agency established to dole out $20 billion to those with losses attributable to the spill. Graves, who heads the state's coastal restoration efforts, said the slow claims process has been devastating to oyster harvesters. He added that BP has yet to begin coastal restoration projects for areas affected by the spill.
"We are days away from the one-year anniversary from this oil spill. Days away. And we haven't had the first restoration action take place," Graves said. He also said that the state has filed various "place holder" lawsuits before time limits to file suits pass, but added that he hopes actual litigation won't be necessary.
Pausina said the state announced weeks ago that it would provide $2 million for oyster bed planting and he announced another $2 million Friday.
Voisin said the state shouldn't have to shell out that money. "We need BP to step up to the table."