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Apalachicola readying for oil spill onslaught

APALACHICOLA -- Florida coastal protection measures edged ever eastward Tuesday with Franklin County workers laying boom to protect fragile estuaries around this famed oystering community.

The Franklin County Seafood Landing Park was closed, serving instead as a staging area for the Deepwater Horizon response.

A flatbed truck was stacked high with orange and yellow boom, waiting to be towed into the waterways.

On Monday, about 7,700 feet of boom was put in the waters, officials said, with plans for nearly 20,000 feet to be placed on Tuesday. The boom is being laid at Bob Sike's Cut, Indian Pass and West Pass.

Apalachicola is home to the most fertile oyster beds in the Gulf of Mexico and the economic lifeblood of the region. No oil had landed yet but there were worries aplenty.

``We're very concerned,'' said County Commissioner Pinki Jackel. ``Our community thrives on two things: the seafood industry and the tourism industry. And those go hand in hand. we realize what's at stake and we're very frightened.''

In Tallahassee, 80 miles to the northeast, a state assessment citing federal models put the oil plume 17 miles from Panama City and 227 miles from St. Petersburg.

Elsewhere, BP announced that it will donate the net revenue it receives from the sale of oil recovered from the broken well to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Federal estimates say it has been spilling up to 60,000 barrels a day into the Gulf of Mexico since April 20, only a portion of which has been collected.

The oil giant said in a statement that it would provide $5 million immediately before the collected crude is refined for ``projects that bring the greatest benefit to the wildlife of the affected Gulf Coast states.''

In the Panhandle, Franklin County officials estimated it would take about 800 people to do beach cleanup and reported that training was underway.

But for anxious residents of this small community, it has been a waiting game.

``It's a prolonged drama,'' Anita Grove, the executive director of the Apalachicola Bay Chamber of Commerce, said of the ever moving oil slick, shifting with the winds and currents. ``Everybody is just trying to figure out how it will impact us. One day you think it'll destroy us. The next day it hasn't come, maybe it won't come.''

Preparations are also underway in Port St. Joe, to the west of Apalachicola.

``It's so massive, it must be coming,'' said Jamie Smith, 64, who owns a book store in Port St. Joe. ``I'd like to think we'd be spared, but I don't think that's realistic. ''

By Tuesday, the gulf's no-fishing zone straddled 86,985 square miles, approximately 36 percent of federal waters and the national incident commander, Adm. Thad Allen, said the Coast Guard had been finding shrimpers violating the closure.

Sunday, the Coast Guard report, it boarded two Louisiana shrimpers working the closed zone, wrote citations to each vessel's captain -- and released 30,000 pounds of shrimp back into the sea.

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