Is the coast clear?Published 9:39am Wednesday, December 7, 2011
After the economic recession that began in 2008 hurt the regular tourism business along the gulf coast, things started to pick up at the beginning of 2010.
“It was going to be our year to get over that hump,” Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon said.
And then the unthinkable: A massive oil spill hit the gulf that spring.
“Our businesses had already used their capital,” Kennon told members of the Brewton Rotary Club Monday. “It was a tough time for our business community going into the oil spill.”
The phones stopped ringing for visitors to book trips to the beach — and when they did ring again, it was to cancel reservations already made.
Kennon said he and other officials on the coast had a request for BP, who had to take responsibility for the spill: Clean up, and make us whole.
But the effort to be “made whole” has touched off a battle that Kennon said is not over.
“I asked, ‘Is this a coverup or a cleanup?’” Kennon said.
BP wanted to give money to workers and other individuals affected by the spill, but Kennon argued it made more sense to give to businesses.
“The money has to flow in normally through businesses and filter down so that it multiplies,” he said. “BP tried to give money to employees. That’s not going to make us whole. That cannibalizes the money. We had people drinking it away; we had people partying it away.”
A silver lining, though, Kennon said, is that the exposure the gulf coast got on the news told more people about the area.
“We hope we look back and say thank God for the oil spill,” he said. “Is the beach clean? Our beaches are cleaner than they’ve ever been. Our seafood is safe.”