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Florida Still Open for Business Despite Oil Threat

By Trimmel Gomes

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wfsu/local-wfsu-900888.mp3

Tallahassee, FL – So far, the massive oil spill has kept its distance from the Florida coastline thanks to the weather and westerly sea currents. But news of the spill is causing many to cancel trips, not just in Louisiana and Alabama, but here in Florida as well. Those living in the Florida panhandle remain hopeful that the oil will stay away and are desperate to let people know they are still open for business.

A 65-foot white charter boat called The Entertainer easily glides its way into the Pensacola Beach Marina on Friday. From the looks of all the faces on board, it was a gorgeous day for fishing.

"The fish basically were on fire. I mean, we caught some really nice Mingo Snapper today; we caught probably a dozen scamp; we had two or three Groupers, a couple of them a 30-lb class."

Captain Jerry Andrews brings ashore roughly 400-pounds of fish, including a hard to catch Cobia.

"My deck hand put on a mask and jumped overboard, went down twenty feet, untangled it, and we caught the fish. It was a pretty awesome feat, being there were a hundred barracudas he jumped in between to get that fish untangled. But it worked out great."
Andrews was fishing about 25-miles southeast of the Pensacola Pass, which is the main entry from the Gulf of Mexico. He says he didn't see any signs of oil, and he hopes it stays that way.

"I hate it on anybody you know, but I'd rather it stay to the west than come over here. But, I mean, we're all feeling the effects of it. They said even they are having cancellations in Texas. They are even having cancellations in Fort Lauderdale on the East coast because of the media saying federal waters, Gulf of Mexico is closed, so the trickledown effect is really getting everybody."

All of those vacation cancellations are causing a lot of frustration and despair.

"There's a lot of people worried about their livelihood."

P.C. Wu is on the Pensacola City Council. The community banks on tourism by drawing people to its pristine beaches. He says it would simply devastate the local economy if people stopped showing up.

"I think the greatest frustration is the fact that the well has not been capped at this point."

An estimated 3.5-million gallons of oil have gushed from the ocean floor since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, located off the Louisiana coast and owned by British Petroleum, exploded and killed eleven people in mid-April. The failed efforts by BP to cap the leak means it's just a matter of time before the oil floats over to Florida.

Governor Charlie Crist hops on a small wooden oyster boat in Apalachicola with third generation oysterman Joseph James.

"The purpose of being here is to learn, listen to people like Joseph and his wife, who is president of the seafood association here since January."

Just before heading out to the Apalachicola Bay Saturday, Crist assured worried seafood workers that the state and federal government will do whatever it takes to keep the oil from killing the industry.

"Well, they are concerned about, you know, if the oil comes into the bay, how that's going to affect oystering and fishing and tourism, all of that."

Crist told the workers the state will receive $25-million from BP this week, to be distributed to counties for cleanup preparation. Residents will also be able to apply to get reimbursed for damages.

"As you can see, it's beautiful here, there's no oil here, and we want to try to get that word out to folks so that the restaurants and hotels and good people like Joseph can stay busy and keep making a living. The stuff hasn't come our way, and we pray to God it doesn't."

James places a giant tong in the roughly six feet deep murky water. He scrapes the floor and brings up a batch of oysters. Crist stands on the edge of the boat, and managed to pull up a few. On the ride back to shore, Crist maintained that his initial support for oil drilling was only as long as it was far enough, safe enough and clean enough.

"It certainly wasn't far enough, it wasn't clean enough, and it wasn't safe enough. It just wasn't good enough, period. And I think Floridians feel like we want to do everything we can to protect our state to make sure something like this doesn't happen even closer to us."

Crist said he will decide this week on calling a special session to put on the November ballot a Constitutional amendment permanently banning offshore drilling.