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Florida businesses hit by BP oil spill file claims

Key West boat captain Chris Lembo recently sold his rods, reels and 30-foot boat. It marked the end of Incognito Charters, his once-lucrative business of taking tourists to the reef and shipwrecks to fish.

High fuel prices, new fishing regulations and the national recession all struck the business hard.

``Then the BP oil spill hit,'' he said. ``That was the final straw.''

Lembo is among the more than 10,000 businesses and individuals in South Florida that have filed claims or federal lawsuits against the oil giant and its contractors. They are seeking compensation for damage and future damage caused by the blowout of the Deepwater Horizon rig on April 20.

Many already have received emergency interim payments.

As of Dec. 2, the Gulf Coast Claims Facility -- which is processing claims to BP's $20 billion compensation fund -- has paid out $44.1 million for 2,776 approved claims out of 6,455 filed by individuals and businesses in the Keys.

Of the claims not paid, some are still being processed, others need more documentation and some have been denied.

``I think we'll get well over $100 million in the Keys by the time it's done,'' said former Monroe County Mayor Mario De Gennaro, a member of the Florida Oil Spill Recovery Task Force.

The BP fund also has paid out $4.1 million for 462 approved claims in Miami-Dade County and another $2.9 million for 58 approved claims from Broward County.

So far, 26 lawsuits filed in the Southern District of Florida have been consolidated into multidistrict litigation, where common pretrial work is handled before a single judge, in this case U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier based in Louisiana.

Compensation for those cases likely will take at least two years, and probably many more.

Claims have come from all types of South Florida businesses and residents. They include commercial fishermen, marinas, restaurants, hotels, dive watering holes, real estate agents, waterfront property owners, lobster trap makers, municipalities and even Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum in Key West.

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