An Oily Aftertaste

An Oily AftertasteEmotions of locals still run the gamut long after oil recedes from our shores and headline newsBy Zandra Wolfgram

The calls began as a trickle in April, then dwindled to just one a day and by mid-May — a month after the British Petroleum (BP) oil spill began gushing in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010 — cancellations due to guests changing travel plans were flooding in to local hotels, charter boats and area attractions.

Local tourist development organizations received nearly $8 million in BP grants to implement marketing campaigns to try to counter negative images that flooded the media channels across the country. Despite their best efforts, tourist visits for the summer were down by 14 percent in the 26-mile Beaches of South Walton area alone. Shops, restaurants and businesses all along the Gulf Coast suffered, and unfortunately some businesses even closed their doors permanently.

Though the few tar balls that made impact on area beaches are long gone, for many an emotional aftertaste lingers. For some it is bitter, for others bittersweet. Yet for some, the future couldn’t be sweeter. One year later, this is what Emerald Coast residents are saying:

“We’re looking forward to a good year. Reservations are picking up and people are calling in. The biggest question is whether the fish are clean. That’s easy. Our fish were never tainted to begin with.”
— Greg Featherston, Harbor Master, Destin

“I feel BP might be stifling what is really going on. Some information may come out next year or the year after and everyone will have signed away rights to everything. I don’t feel I’m getting all the information.”
— Stacey Troy, Retailer, Santa Rosa Beach

“BP stole the whole fishing season from us.”
— Steve Land, Boat Captain, Fort Walton Beach

“I think we’re going to have a hell of a summer. The economy isn’t great, but consumer confidence is getting better. People will start enjoying the finer things. And I think we’re going to see new faces, too.”
— Joni Johnson, Boating Sales & Leasing, Destin

“As far as looking forward, and that’s all we can do, we’re about to have a really good season. With my 30 years experience, we’ve always had a sense of what will be based on winter holidays and we just had a tremendous Thanksgiving and Christmas. It just lit up. It’s tea leaves, but it’s worked in the past.”
— Tom Rice, Restaurateur, Destin
“We prepared for the worst and were given the best. As far as the main impact, we were spared. Locally, business owners are still waiting for BP to step up. We are very optimistic about our next business year. We’re planning and forecasting for a terrific year. The visitors may have gone elsewhere, but they’re coming back to Destin.”
— Steve Wilson, Charter Boat Owner, Destin

“We don’t know how it will be, but Panama City is experiencing more bookings this year than the 17 years before. It’ll be from zero to 200.”
— Alex Correia, Cook, Freeport

“I’m looking forward to this summer. We have high hopes.
— Erin Jackson, Student/Server, Seacrest

“We can’t see (the oil) now, but it’s not gone. I wonder what kind of legacy we are leaving for our kids.”
— Jackie Gibson, Catering Director, Destin

“I hope we don’t get a hurricane and (the oil) comes up from the bottom. That’s my fear.”
— Mary Gaynoe, Server, Fort Walton Beach

“I think we were extremely lucky. I think our beaches are gorgeous and precious. And if people feel like I do, they’ll be back.”
— Barry Dalton, Retailer, Destin