A year later, Gulf Coast still coming to terms with oil spill

McClatchy NewspapersJuly 12, 2011 

BAYOU LA BATRE, Ala. -- It was nearing sunset on a muggy night when Debra Bosarge arrived at the State Docks, her daughter, Celia, buckled into the passenger seat. They were there to wave goodbye as Bosarge’s boyfriend, Connie Johnson, set out for a night of shrimping aboard the trawler Empty Pockets.

It’s a familiar scene in this village, which bills itself as the seafood capital of Alabama, but it has added poignancy this summer: The Gulf Coast is on the rebound a year after the BP oil spill wreaked havoc on the economy, environment and psyche. Yet the relief felt a year ago when crews finally maneuvered into place the cap that stopped the gushing well is tempered by anxiety over the future.

“They’ve gone back to work, but is it still scary? Yes,” said Bosarge, 31, who’s a descendant of the town’s founding family. “We just pray and try not to think of it a whole lot. If you dwell on it, it’s in your head all the time.”

This Friday will mark one year since oil stopped flowing into the Gulf of Mexico, and a drive along the coast from the sugar white sands of Pensacola, Fla., to the barrier islands of Louisiana over the Fourth of July weekend found many signs of progress: Bustling beaches were free of oil, Gulf seafood was on the menus and marinas that had canceled fishing rodeos when the oil was swirling say the fish are biting.

But despite those scenes of a region recovering, conversations all along the Gulf Coast showed that many are still grappling with an enormous sense of distrust.

Some can’t quite bring themselves to believe government assertions that the spill didn’t do as much damage as first feared. Others don’t believe assurances that the seafood is safe to eat. Everywhere, people expressed fear that oil still lurks deep in the Gulf and that a sizable hurricane could spit it back onshore.

“I’m not a rocket scientist but I’ve got enough sense to know all that oil just doesn’t disappear,” Bosarge said.

Across the Gulf, state economists are still tallying lost sales taxes, fishing license revenue and other data to determine how much each state lost during the 87 days -- from April 20 to July 15, 2010 -- that the oil spewed into the Gulf. Analysts suggest that it could take years to fully detail the economic and environmental effects of the disaster.

The tourists, though, are returning. Among them, Ynese Davis, who last year skipped her usual fishing vacation to Pensacola, Fla., and traveled instead to the casinos in Tunica, Miss.

The Atlanta native was back this year, happily pursuing croaker and white trout from the deck of the Bay Bridge Fishing Pier in Pensacola.

“There’s been trouble everywhere,” said Davis, who’s 53, noting that Tunica closed the casinos for two weeks this spring when the Mississippi River rose to historic levels. “But I can’t complain here. I’m just glad to be back. You saw that oil, you didn’t know if you’d ever be here again.”

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