Saturday, February 12, 2011

Alabama tourism dollars drop $100M after oil spill | | Pensacola News Journal

Alabama tourism dollars drop $100M after oil spill Pensacola News Journal: "Alabama tourism dollars drop $100M after oil spill
Associated Press • February 12, 2011"

Alabama tourism dollars drop $100M after oil spill

Associated Press • February 12, 2011

GULF SHORES, Ala. — Tourists spent almost $100 million less visiting Alabama's main tourist beaches last year than the year before the Gulf oil spill, a tourism official said Friday.

The vice president for the Gulf Shores-Orange Beach tourism agency, Mike Foster, said Friday that $144 million was spent in the Baldwin County beach communities of Orange Beach, Gulf Shores and Fort Morgan in 2010. That compares with $241 million in 2009, the year before the spill. The spending figures include money spent at hotels, restaurants and beach-related businesses, such as souvenir shops and beach chair rental stands.
"That is very significant," Foster said.

Associated Press

He said the decrease showed people, concerned by images of oil- and tar-coated sands, stayed away from the beaches. Tourism plummeted across the coast after BP PLC's well in the Gulf of Mexico blew out in April, spewing millions of gallons of crude into the sea. Crews spent weeks clearing oil and tar balls from the beaches.
Foster said the number doesn't include revenues from people who stayed in motels or hotels in nearby communities like Foley or Mobile, or those who made a one-day trip to the shore. He said it also doesn't include revenue lost from tourists who would have stayed in motels or visited restaurants across Alabama on their way to the Gulf Coast.
The loss is probably worse than the numbers show because many merchants, hotels and motels offered large discounts to spur business, Foster said.
The Alabama Attorney General's Office has filed a lawsuit seeking to recover revenue lost by the spill. A spokeswoman for Attorney General Luther Strange, Jessica Garrison, said the tourism figures would be an important part of the overall assessment of damages to the state caused by the oil spill. She said Strange is working with Gov. Robert Bentley to determine Alabama's total economic loss as a result of the oil spill.
State tourism officials said 1 million fewer people visited Alabama's beaches in 2010 than in 2009. That figure was part of an annual report on the state's top tourist attractions.
The report said 3.6 million people visited Alabama beaches in 2010 compared with 4.6 million 2009. While the number of visitors to attractions on the Gulf was down, other attractions across the state showed an increase in visitors in 2010.
Gulf State Park alone recorded 300,000 fewer visitors in 2010 than the previous year.
Advance bookings suggest more people will visit the coast this year, but the numbers aren't likely to hit 2009 levels, Foster said.
"I hope that people who come for spring break take the message home that everything is fine," Foster said.
AP-WF-02-11-11 2331GMT

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Keep an eye out to help national bird count | | Pensacola News Journal

Keep an eye out to help national bird count Pensacola News Journal: "Keep an eye out to help national bird count"

Keep an eye out to help national bird count

Travis Griggs • • February 7, 2011

Bird-watchers across the country will get to use their skills for science this month during the Great Backyard Bird Count.

The event, a joint project of the National Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, pools the efforts of thousands of amateur bird watchers to count birds near their homes and report their findings to a website.
Audubon and Cornell researchers use the data to learn more about how environmental changes affect birds and how to protect them.
"It gives a picture, a quick snapshot, of where the birds are and how they're doing," said Peggy Baker, a president's council member at the Francis M. Weston Audubon Society.
The count this year is Feb. 18-21. Anyone can participate, from novices to expert bird-watchers. Organizers ask that participants count birds for a minimum of 15 minutes on one day of the event.
Last year, participants submitted more than 97,200 bird checklists, a 4 percent increase over the previous year.
Baker said the event can be an eye-opening experience for local residents.
More information is available at, including checklists, guides and other tools to help participants identify and report birds likely to inhabit their area.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Full Oil Spill Recovery By 2012, NOT! (VIDEO)

Full Oil Spill Recovery By 2012, NOT! (VIDEO)

  • February 4, 2011 8:08 am
ORANGE BEACH, Alabama – Looks can be deceiving. There may not be oil visible in the Gulf of Mexico but signs still linger of the impact it had on the gulf coast.
“It is impossible to forecast when all this stuff will be back to normal,” says charter boat captain Ben Fairey. But that’s exactly what Kenneth Feinberg says is contained in a report from a Texas A&M professor and what he is basing his calculations on when paying for damages caused by the BP oil spill.
Fairey calls it premature and reckless. “This hasn’t even been a year so how can we make an informed decision on what the long term recovery of the Gulf of Mexico is?”
To prove his point Fairey says you only have to look back about six years to the west coast of Florida where a red tide incident impacted the gag grouper population.
“That didn’t show up until this past year,” he says, “and unfortunately now the fishermen are not going to be able to harvest gag grouper for the first six months of 2011 because of something that happened at 2005.”
“This is not over just cause someone wants it to be.” Mobile Baykeeper executive director Casi Callaway read the report and says Feinberg needs to do his job. “Feinberg’s job is to deal with the economic impacts to individuals and businesses. it it not to do environmental work.”
She believes there is another reason Feinberg commissioned the report and BP paid for it.
“What Feinberg would like to do, and BP would like to do is wrap everything in a nice little bow and call it finished, and put a timeline on it, and we never have to look at the gulf again.”
According to the study, shrimp in the gulf coast should return to normal harvest levels by 2012, excluding royal red shrimp. Blue crab should be back this year. Oyster reefs could take as long as ten years to fully recover. The recovery of finfish depends largely on how much the juvenile classes were impacted during the disaster.
See video here:

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Mayor pleased with judge's ruling on claims czar |

Mayor pleased with judge's ruling on claims czar "Mayor pleased with judge's ruling on claims czar"

Updated: Wednesday, 02 Feb 2011, 8:51 PM CST
Published : Wednesday, 02 Feb 2011, 8:49 PM CST

ORANGE BEACH, Alabama (WALA) - The news that Ken Feinberg must not claim independence from BP was music to Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon’s ears.
Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier ruled that claim Czar Ken Feinberg was not independent of BP and he must stop telling claimants that he is.

Kennon said this ruling validates everything they have been saying.

“We do not consider Mr. Feinberg independent of BP. We do not consider his actions in our best interest, the claimants best interest and we do not consider him an advocate as he says he is for the claimants and we see no way he could follow through on BP’s promises to make us whole,” said Kennon.

The judge also said that Fienberg must make it clear to claimants that he is acting on behalf of BP in all of his communications.

Kennon said this is a big step in the right direction.

“At this point and based on this judges ruling the White House needs to recalculate Mr. Feinberg as the administrator and look at some other checks and balances to make sure that the process becomes fair because as it stands now, its not fair,” said Kennon.

Possibly, the next step will be to look further into controversial topics in the claims conversation

Big blob of gunk found in the Gulf |

Big Blob of Gun Found off Perdido Pass "Big blob of gunk found in the Gulf"

Big blob of gunk found in the Gulf

Scientists used a multi-corer to take sediment samples near Perdido Pass, offshore of the Alabama and Florida border. Lab tests found no traces of oil. The goo is made entirely of dead plankton, algae and bacteria.
Published: Wednesday, February 2, 2011 at 10:28 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 2, 2011 at 2:25 p.m.
( page 1 of 3 )
From a distance the toxic goo looks like oil, but up close it smells like rotten eggs and wiggles like jelly. Scientists have no idea what it is or how it wound up in the northern Gulf of Mexico, near Perdido Pass.
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A core sample from Perdido Pass taken in Dec. 2010, shows black goo at least 50 centimeters deep.
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Just off the Florida Panhandle coastline, within site of Perdido Key, scientists have discovered an underwater mass of dead sea life that appears to be growing as microscopic algae and bacteria get trapped and die.
Early samples indicate the glob is at least three feet thick and spans two-thirds of a mile parallel to the coast.
No one knows where it came from or where it will go.
Scientists are trying to determine if oil from last year's Deepwater Horizon disaster led to the glob. But tests so far have found no sign of oil.
"It seems to be a combination of algae and bacteria," said David Hollander, a chemical oceanographer with the University of South Florida, describing the substance as "extraordinarily sticky" and toxic.
While scientists have drawn no conclusions about the gooey mat's origin, they are not ruling out a potential connection to the oil spill. Oil gummed and slicked that part of the Gulf for 30 to 40 days during the three-month well gusher, which pumped 186 million to 227 million gallons of crude into the Gulf.
"We don't know all the ramifications, the implications of a spill like this," Hollander said.
He and other scientists plan to return to the glob in a few weeks for more samples. The equipment available on the last cruise was not long enough to reach the bottom of the mat. The bottom sediments could hold important clues about how the glob formed. The scientists also did not have the time or equipment to map out the entire blob.
Researchers found the substance while on a December search for oily sediments on the Gulf floor. Scientists found such sediments, but were diverted when they got a tip about something unusual about a half mile from Perdido Pass.
The environment near the blob is a relatively pristine sloping shelf, where wave action usually sweeps away sediments.
Tests show it had no connection to land, was less than a year old and almost 100 percent biological. Tests also showed that tiny organisms had been getting stuck to the blob and dying as a result.
George Crozier, executive director of the Dauphin Island Sea Lab in Louisiana, said such material is foreign to the northern Gulf coast environment.
"It sounds a lot like an organic deposit, the source of which is frankly very difficult to ascertain," Crozier said.
He speculates that a bloom of algae may have feasted on something - possibly oil - ran out of food and then died. The decaying algae might have then sucked all the oxygen out of the water and killed whatever was in the way.
The blob is equally puzzling to local ecologists who study the coastal resources near Perdido Pass. But it could be one of many strange discoveries that scientists find as they conduct oil spill research. Gulf research has been limited over the decades, so every odd discovery may not have a link to the spill.
"The scrutiny and the eyes and the awareness and the attention on the water these days, people are noticing things they've never noticed before," said Phillip West, coastal resources manager for the city of Orange Beach, Alabama.
But all of the damage caused by the oil and the 1.8 million gallons of chemical dispersants used to break it up will be difficult to trace, especially as time passes.

In his nine years with Orange Beach, West said he has never heard of a substance matching Hollander's description. Occasional mats of decayed marsh muck turn up, but those are far different.
West also is not ruling out a potential link to the oil.
"Ecology tells us there are chains of events that occur for inputs or disturbances in the environment. One thing can lead to another," West said.

Perdido Key park in trouble | | Pensacola News Journal

Perdido Key park in trouble Pensacola News Journal: "Perdido Key park in trouble"

Perdido Key park in trouble

Proposed budget cuts could close 53 state parks

Travis Griggs • • February 2, 2011
Perdido Key State Park is among 53 Florida parks that could be closed later this year as state officials scramble to meet a nearly $4 billion budget shortfall.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection included the closures in a budget proposal outlining how it could cut 15 percent from its budget in the upcoming fiscal year, which begins in July.
Perdido Key State Park is a 247-acre barrier island tract, located about 15 miles southwest of Pensacola on Gulf Beach Highway.
"Everybody would just be sick if they closed it. It's lovely," said Ann Griffin, a board member with the Perdido Key Association, a nonprofit advocate for environmental preservation and responsible development. "I hope they would think long and hard before closing it."
The park, which is open from 8 a.m. to sundown, has basic facilities including a parking lot, boardwalk, covered picnic tables and restrooms. It provides a habitat for several endangered species, including the Perdido Key beach mouse, which is one of North America's rarest mammals.
Details of how the closures would be carried out, including how much access the public would have to closed park land, had yet to be decided, said Kristin Lock, DEP spokeswoman.
"The proposed closures are still just that, proposed," Lock said.
Lock said details would be worked out once the state budget gets final approval, which usually occurs in May.
Jim Lane, president of the Friends of Perdido Bay community organization, said that while the park may not be fancy, it is a community asset.
The park is only occasionally attended by state employees, and admission fees of $3 per vehicle and $2 per pedestrian are collected in an "honor system" drop box near the park entrance.
"It seems like it's pretty low maintenance," Lane said.
Low attendance
Statewide, the closures would save $6.4 million per year in expenses but would cost the DEP more than $900,000 in lost park entry fees and other revenues, according to the budget proposal.
Parks selected for the proposed closure list have the lowest attendance numbers and don't offer camping or other overnight accommodations, DEP officials said.
In the 2009-10 fiscal year, 31,133 people visited Perdido Key State Park, DEP officials said, and the park's operating budget was $33,571.
During a legislative committee meeting last week, DEP's deputy secretary for policy and planning, Jennifer Fitzwater, said the agency does not plan to sell any closed park land, because the parks could be reopened at a later date when the budget allows.
Escambia County Commissioner Gene Valentino, whose district includes Perdido Key State Park, said he planned to ask Gov. Scott for more details on the possible park closure during a conference call today.
"I respect very much his aggressive approach at getting our financial matters under control at the state level," Valentino said. "The concern I have is I'm not looking to have the state continue to own property and have local tax dollars maintain it."