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Entries in Louisiana (4)

Monday
Sep032012

The Disasters After the Disaster

Mario Tama/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- It's as predictable as the weather is unpredictable. As the people of Louisiana and Mississippi struggle through another post-hurricane flood, con artists are going to come out of the woodwork and try to profit from their losses.

So here's a reminder of the top three scams that usually float to the surface after every natural disaster.

Unlicensed Contractors:

Fly-by-night repair crews can wreak financial havoc after a family has already suffered through mother nature's blows. Here are the telltale signs of an unlicensed contractor:

•Door-to-door Solicitations. Legitimate, licensed contractors have all the work they can handle and don't solicit that way.

•Payment in advance. Unscrupulous contractors often demand their money up front, then do shoddy work --or no work at all. Even with a licensed contractor, you should never pay up front. Instead, pay in installments, and don't let your payments get ahead of the work that's actually been done.

•No physical address. Unlicensed contractors often offer up just a cell phone number and maybe an Internet address. What you want is a physical address where you can show up to complain --or serve a lawsuit-- if things go wrong.

To verify that a contractor is properly licensed, check the business name and the owner's name with your state or county. Not all states require contractors to be licensed, which is a shame. In that case, you will have to be extra diligent about checking the contractor's reputation with your state and county consumer protection agencies and with the Better Business Bureau, at www.bbb.org.

Fake Disaster Relief Drives:

Unfortunately, in natural disasters, there are greedy people who try to profit from it. They pretend to be collecting money for victims then keep it for themselves. Once again, there are red flags to look for:

•Emotional Pleas. If the pitch for assistance is long on pathos and short on details, that's suspicious. Demand written proof of the organization's mission and good standing.

•Copycat names. Fake charities often use names that are very similar to those of real ones. They'll substitute one word, like "foundation" instead of "association." So if the name sounds off to you, search it online and see what comes up.

•High pressure. If you are pressed to give money on the spot, beware. That's a classic scam tactic, because the bad guys want to get your money and run.

•Courier Pickup: Fake charities have been known to send a courier to pick up your payment rather than asking you to send it through the mail. Why? Because they want to avoid US mail fraud laws.

The best way to help after a disaster is to "be the hunter, not the hunted." In other words, research and seek out charities you are interested in giving to, rather than responding to those that come after you. To make sure that even a real charity makes good use of your funds, check its rating with the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance. Once again, the destination is www.bbb.org.

Price Gouging:

This is a term that's often misused to refer to anything that is outrageously expensive. But remember, we live in a free market economy, so businesses can charge any price they want if people will pay it --EXCEPT when a disaster is looming. The actual, legal definition of "price gouging" is when businesses charge extra for emergency supplies in the face of a disaster. That's illegal.

If you feel you have been gouged for supplies like gasoline, batteries, bottled water and so on, contact your state attorney general to complain. Go to www.naag.org to find yours.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Monday
Aug292011

Oyster Population Plummets in Louisiana after BP Spill, Floods

Workers offload oysters in Pass Christian, Mississippi. Mario Tama/Getty Images(NEW ORLEANS) -- On this sixth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana and Mississippi are battling a sharp decline in the oyster population, which may not recover until 2013 now that a two-year influx of fresh water has killed off millions of the mollusks.

After the BP oil spill in 2010, water was diverted out of the Mississippi River to keep the oil away from coastal wetlands. In the process, fresh water flooded into oyster hatcheries, disrupting the delicate saline balance required for oysters to survive. When saline levels get too low, algae die, eliminating the oyster's food supply.

And if it weren't already enough that the Gulf Coast had been hammered by the largest oil spill in U.S. history as well as record drought, oyster farmers got hit again in May after rain and snowmelt had caused the Mississippi River to rise higher than it had in 70 years.

The Army Corps of Engineers opened the Bonnet Carre Spillway, located west of New Orleans, to divert rising Mississippi River floodwaters from the city. Soon after, they also opened the Morganza spillway, diverting water away from both Baton Rouge and New Orleans, and adding even more fresh water to oyster grounds.

"This year we'll produce about 50 percent of our traditional in-shell oysters," said Mike Voisin, CEO of Motivatit Seafoods, which typically produces about 20 million pounds of in-shell oysters.

During a typical oyster season, which starts in September in Louisiana, Voisin said the state produces a third of the nation's oysters. But this year, he estimates the number will decline from an average of 250 million pounds to about 125 million pounds.

Next year, he expects the number of oysters produced to decline even further, to 87.5 million pounds, and the price of oysters to rise.

The 2010 water diversion was successful in preventing Louisiana's coastline from becoming contaminated, Voisin said.

"We have 7,500 miles of coastline around Louisiana and only had 400 miles that were oiled."

But the impact that diversion had on the oysters will likely last until 2013, possibly longer.

Voisin, who also serves as chairman of the Gulf Seafood Marketing Coalition, says oyster producers east of the Mississippi River are now also investigating a mysterious substance growing on the shells oyster larvae attach to (commonly referred to as "cultch"). He believes it's due to the lack of harvesting in the area after the BP oil spill.

An oyster mortality study conducted in August of 2010 and published this year found an estimated 77 percent of the oysters in the Breton Sound basin off the Louisiana coast died.

In Mississippi, the oyster population had huge losses, especially in the western Mississippi Sound, which houses most of the commercial reefs.

Mississippi's restoration efforts will eventually make an impact, he said, but probably not for another 18 to 24 months, the time it takes for oysters to grow. Currently, water salinities are back to normal, and the state will continue cultivating cultch plants, providing oyster shells or limestone for the oyster larvae to attach, using $3 million in restoration funding.

In Louisiana, however, water salinity continues to be a problem.

Alligator farmer Stephen Sagrera, Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission chairman, said the oyster population has been "severely hurt" by the extra fresh water, and the 7-member commission will take up the issue Thursday when it sets dates for the upcoming oyster season.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Monday
Apr182011

'Spillionaires' Profiting off BP Oil Spill

U.S. Coast Guard via Getty Images(ST. BERNARD PARISH, La.) -- The massive BP oil spill that devastated the Gulf Coast has turned out to be an economic boon for local governments and businesses, and even spawned a new word describing those who are profiting off the disaster -- "spillionaires."

Basic goods -- from bottles of water to port-o-johns, boats and lumber -- are all being sold to BP at inflated prices, often 20 times the going rate.

"It's been very good for our business, I'll tell you that," said businessman Ronnie Hyer, whose company sells safety equipment to cleanup crews.

A team of government-contracted biologists are currently renting a modest four-bedroom home at a rate of $30,000 per month, and the petroleum company seems to have no problem footing the bill.

Mike Utsler, chief operating officer for BP's Gulf Coast Restoration Organization, told ABC News the company wasn't focused on price -- it just wants to deliver results in a timely manner.

"Our focus was getting people, getting equipment and meeting the challenges of this historic response," Utsler said.  "No matter what it took at that point in time."

When BP and the government set up an army of 48,000 cleanup workers, businessmen like Hyer sold the company anything from Tyvek suits to kitty litter scoopers, causing his business to increase 1,000 percent.

But Wayne Landry, a councilman in St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana thinks that the nearly $18 billion BP spent could have been put to better use.  In fact, he said his parish -- and others -- have "raped" BP.

"[We] wanted a better impact on the money, instead of gouging them on certain costs," he said.

Despite the criticism, local governments are raking in tax revenue, thanks to the cleanup efforts.

St. Bernard Parish saw a 96 percent spike in sales tax receipts.  Nearby Plaquemines Parish experienced a 70 percent increase.

But while there are plenty of "spillionaires" profiting from the cleanup efforts, tens of thousands of claimants are still waiting for their piece of the $20 billion settlement fund. ´╗┐

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Sunday
Feb132011

Three Gulf States Seek Answers on BP Oil Spill Payout

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Top officials from three states along the Gulf Coast, whose shores were hit particularly hard both environmentally and economically following the BP oil spill in 2010, are having no qualms about publicly criticizing the man in charge of distributing the relief funds.

Kenneth Feinberg, the man appointed by President Obama to be his administration's pay czar, has been particularly slow and less than transparent in his dealings with BP and the funds, the attorneys general from Louisiana, Mississippi, and Florida say.

As of Thursday, the $20 billion Gulf Coast Claims Facility established by BP had paid 168,634 claims for a total of $3.4 billion, The Washington Post reported. Many of those claims have been dismissed as having no merit, causing outrage among those whose livelihood was severely impacted by the spill.

The attorneys general have taken large issue with the fact that Feinberg, as they allege, has been encouraging those appying for relief funds to settle with BP for a one-time payout, in exchange for waiving their right to sue in the future.

Louisiana had the highest percentage of claims to the fund, with 39 percent of overall requests coming from individuals or businesses within the state. Florida accounted for 33 percent, and Mississippi for 10 percent of claims.

All three states are appealing to a U.S. District Court Judge to ask for more transparency into the process used by Feinberg to distribute the relief money and on Feb. 18, when the next arguments are scheduled in the complaint process, may ask for court-mandated changes to the process.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio´╗┐







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