A huge boat makes docking look easy in Empire, south of Belle Chasse in Plaquemines Parish. The location: Mato's Premium Oysters started by industrious Croatians new to the country.
"My uncle came first, and my dad came in 1973, I think, with an empty suitcase," said Mathew Lepetich, who took over the business so his father and uncle could retire.
He was just off the boat after returning from tending to the company's oyster beds. You could say they require more attention than ever. Lepetich said things are not the same since the 2010 BP oil spill.
"I haven't forgotten how to grow oysters, but for some reason they're not reproducing. The same material down that we always did in the past, and they're just not catching," he said.
He is convinced that the millions of gallons of oil that gushed from BP's Macondo well at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico off Louisiana's coastline remains the culprit.
"First it was the oil spill, then there was dispersants," Lepetich said.
On Monday, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal handed BP a huge legal setback. The court refused to reconsider its prior ruling that basically said that businesses do not have to prove they were directly harmed by BP's oil spill to collect settlement payments.
The decision could lead to the resumption of a claims process that has been stalled for months. BP agreed in a 2012 settlement to pay claims without requiring proof that losses were directly caused by the spill and oil well blast that killed 11 workers.
But then the company waged a public relations campaign in national newspapers accusing some businesses of cashing in on damages they did not deserve.
BP's Geoff Morrell issued the following statement in response to Monday's appeals court ruling:
"BP is disappointed that the full Fifth Circuit will not be considering the divided panel decisions relating to the compensation of claims for losses that have no apparent connection to the spill. The company is considering its legal options."
Lepetich is emphatic that all of his company's claims are legitimate.
"I had the proof and everything and they still didn't want to pay it," he said.
He said he still has about eight claims pending that are worth millions.
"All my income is still pending. They only paid us - they paid us for the leases," he said.
If BP decides to take this fight to the U.S. Supreme Court, Lepetich wouldn't be surprised. He believes the company has a big interest in dragging this thing out.
"Delay, delay, and then once you string me out for two or three more years and I'm dying for money, you could probably settle me for 25 cents on the dollar," Lepetich said. "They offered us 50 two years later - 50 cents on the dollar."
Attorney Danny Becnel, who represents hundreds of oil spill victims, said Tuesday that he believes BP will go to the U.S. Supreme Court.
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