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BP official grilled by frustrated mayors at news conference

By Sarah Aarthun, CNN
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BP scolded for painting 'rosy picture'
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Two Alabama mayors confront BP senior vice president during briefing on oil disaster
  • Mayors say they have wanted meetings with high-ranking BP officials for more than a month
  • Orange Beach mayor says he has "no confidence" in BP's economic response thus far
  • BP official "living in Land of Oz," mayor says

(CNN) -- Frustrated Gulf Coast mayors confronted a BP official during a news conference Saturday after they said requests to meet with high-ranking executives at the oil company went unanswered.

The incident occurred as BP's senior vice president briefed reporters in Mobile, Alabama, about the ongoing efforts to contain the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Bob Fryar said an operation underway to funnel crude from the underwater gusher to a surface vessel was going "extremely well," and that he was "pleased" with the effort thus far.

Robert Kraft, the mayor of Gulf Shores, took issue with that characterization, saying, "I don't know who represents you in our community, but I would love to have one of your guys go down and look at our beaches and tell me that what you see is effective and is working."

Fryar responded that he understood the frustration and agreed to meet with him after the briefing.

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Mayor Tony Kennon of Orange Beach also used the news conference to get a meeting with the official, saying "if you sensed our frustration, you would have been here a lot sooner."

"We've been asking for a senior BP official (since May 1) to come and sit down and visit with us," Kennon said, visibly upset. "You show up today, we don't even know you are coming. So what you say and what you do, Mr. Fryar, with all due respect, are two different things."

Kennon later told CNN that he met with Fryar for about 45 minutes after the news conference, but said he still had "no confidence" in BP's economic response to communities hard-hit financially by the disaster.

"(Fryar) made it very clear to us ... that (BP's) first obligation is their shareholders," Kennon said.

The current claims process "will just not work in this situation, where time is of the essence," he said, describing what he called "an immediate need" for financial assistance for those who work in the tourism industry, from marina dockhands and waiters and waitresses to charter fishing boat captains and hotel workers.

"We do not have time to go through the forensic accounting process," Kennon said. "Our year is made from Memorial Day to Labor Day."

He said the community is already hurting from the economic impact of the disaster, with tourism numbers down 50 percent.

"We have folks right now pushing other bills aside just to make payroll," Kennon said, adding that layoffs are imminent if claims aren't paid out immediately.

Meanwhile, he said, Fryar "shows up, talks about how good a job they're doing on the beach. ... It's almost like he's living in the Land of Oz."

Kennon and other coastal leaders have been calling for BP to draw up a contract of sorts that specifically lays out a plan for compensation.

Kennon specifically wants BP "to make sure that every single dollar that we would have earned this year is in the system," as well as paying for lost dollars in travel reservations that were made in advance but then canceled after the disaster.

However, Kennon isn't optimistic.

"I feel like I'm David and Goliath and I've run out of rocks."

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