At an emergency workshop in St. Petersburg Beach earlier this week, Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission chairman Rodney Barreto told the media on hand to help deliver a simple message, "Our beaches are open, hotels are open, and commercial and recreational fishing is still open."
Barreto also had a quick damage assessment - no impacts from the oil spill, with current trajectories showing no impacts likely in the immediate future. But, he added, "it's all hands on deck for wildlife."
FWC division leaders reported that the agency has established two-way communications with fishermen, assessed legal options, and conducted scientific pre-impact sampling of wildlife, habitats and fisheries. Despite that, those in attendance expressed their frustration at getting straight information. Barreto's response was "let's spend some of B-Ps money to get the news out there". British Petroleum has already given Florida $25 million to promote tourism.
Florida Governor Charlie Crist has signed an executive order (10-101) establishing the Gulf Oil Spill Economic Recovery Task Force to facilitate efforts by Florida businesses and industries to recover from the loss of commerce and revenues due to the oil spill.
In Alabama State Conservation Commissioner Barnett Lawley says while the oil has actually started to impact nearly 30 miles of Louisiana shoreline, it's only produced "a handful of tar balls" on Alabama beaches.
But, Lawley says, "this is a very serious situation that could affect all of our lives."
In Mississippi the tourism industry is in a near-panic mode. According to state officials, about half the people who made reservations before the April 20 spill have cancelled them. Ken Montana of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Tourism Commission says it's a deeper problem than that, with "an 80 percent reduction in calls for future bookings."
Montana and his Association have spent around $600,000 of their own money to let people know that, despite the accident, "no beaches are closed, period."
And the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) informed B-P that it must use a less toxic form of chemical dispersants to break up it's oil spill. According to government sources, B-P was given 24 hours to choose a new chemical-- and 72 hours to get it into action.
Conservation officials say this is definitely not good news. In fact, it's regarded as tacit admission that there's a growing concern regarding the nearly 700,000 gallons of dispersants used under water and on the surface. An email from B-P says company officials are "conducting ongoing assessment of alternatives or supplemental dispersant products" and "any dispersant that will be used going forward will be subject to government review and approval."
So how much oil is being released? Hard to say, especially since B-P is already capturing 5,000 barrels per day in it's insertion tube mechanism. With oil still flooding out, it's obvious the early estimates were low. How low is a question one official says will be the cause of "dueling lawyers" when the inevitable damages trials begin.
The National Wildlife Federation has toughened their rhetoric, too. Now, they refer to the location as a "crime scene."
Meanwhile, everyone is hoping for the best while planning for the worst. At sunup this morning, Florida opens its oyster season--ten days early. The season's been lengthened from 92 to 102 days in hopes of meeting the demand for the prized Apalachicola bay oysters. According to state numbers, 92 percent of Florida's oyster production comes from this Panhandle bay.
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