I suspect it would be easier for Floridians and other Gulf Coasters to accept the permanent change in their lives if there were more widespread and public acknowledgment that it is indeed a permanent change in their lives.
Some people are calling it the Summer of Oil, but the oil’s impact will continue well beyond August, when a relief well being drilled by BP is supposed to shut down the undersea gusher at last. So much oil has spewed into the gulf that Florida officials say even if the relief well works, the spill is likely to keep tossing goop onto Florida beaches until at least October….
Betsy Booth expected to make $5,600 this month renting out her Pensacola Beach condo to tourists. But everyone canceled and “that went down the tube,” she said.
She was able to recoup some of the money by renting the place at a lower rate to a Texas contractor working for BP on the cleanup.
“I was able to get a year lease,” she said. “That tells you how long they believe they’re going to be there.”
Some of the damage has been emotional, with depression, anger and grief on the rise.
“When your entire way of life is built around seeing how the seasons change here, the things you do here, the things you eat, that’s the reason you live here — and all of that is dying slowly right before your eyes. It’s like checking an elderly relative into a rest home and knowing they’re not going to come out,” said James “Rip” Kirby III, a coastal geologist with the University of South Florida who is based in Fort Walton Beach.
Some of what has happened — the confusion over who’s in charge, the problems with communication, the red tape involved in getting help — is sure to have political ramifications.
“The trust of the people in the institutions they’ve come to rely on, like the government and business, if it was damaged in the past, it’s in a terminal phase now,” said Kirby, who grew up in the Panhandle. “The public has absolutely no confidence in what’s going on.”
Anyone who insists on still going to the beach in Pensacola will find orange-topped warning signs about touching the oil that has washed ashore or swimming in water with a visible sheen.
Even building sand castles is a hazardous activity now, because oil has been found as deep as a foot below a clean-looking surface. Children scooping out moats around their sandy turrets have discovered what looks like lumps of brown Play-Doh.
Despite the warning signs, as of this week 27 people have reported they’ve become ill after coming in contact with oil at Pensacola Beach, according to the Escambia County Health Department. They were nauseous, coughing, short of breath, their skin was irritated — not the kind of beach visit memories the Chamber of Commerce would encourage.
For decades the Panhandle’s beaches have been famous for their white sand, the polished quartz crystals sparkling brightly under the blazing sun. Now, for the first time in history, Escambia and Santa Rosa County officials have set up dozens of portable cleaning stations near the dune crossovers so any tourists who step in the oil can wash it off.
But it’s not enough. After the visitors drive off, there are always strips of scraped-off residue on the parking lot, like a series of shadows paralleling all the white lines.