Oil spill frustrates officials
By the end of June, with the make-or-break July 4 weekend approaching, tourist cities and counties along the Gulf Coast were awash in oil from British Petroleum’s (BP) oil rig Deepwater Horizon, which exploded and sank in April. Local officials say they are frustrated with clean up efforts and worried that the hurricane season this year will be even more destructive than usual.
Officials in Gulf Shores, Ala., which had been fighting with almost no success to keep oil off the area’s pristine white beaches since early June, estimate that they would lose close to $1 million in general sales and lodging tax revenue for that month, says Gulf Shores spokesperson Grant Brown. “If you lose any of these months in the summer time when the local businesses make all their money, it’s devastating,” he says.
Gulf County, Fla., one of eight counties in the state’s panhandle to begin seeing oil, had already spent $300,000 on preventive measures to stop the oil from hitting its beaches, says Bill Williams, a Gulf County commissioner and second vice president of the Florida Association of Counties. He says the response by BP and the federal government is confusing and unwisely directed from the top instead of following locals’ emergency management protocols. “If they would follow what we do, from local government up, we could get these areas protected, we could make good decisions, but it’s been a top-end [decision-making process] that’s being decided by unified command,” Williams says.
Frustration is high on all levels, says Valerie Brown, president of the Washington-based National Association of Counties (NACo), who was touring the area in June. NACo was sending support to the afflicted areas, and Brown says the situation has national ramifications. “We have oil rigs in the ocean on the West Coast, as well,” Brown says. “We had the Santa Barbara spill, we had the Exxon Valdez, and now we have this one. There needs to be [a response plan] put into place, because now we know it definitely can happen. And, again, local governments need to be plugged into whatever the process is.”