Special Reports

Waiting for oil spill impact: Local businesses gather info on ways to prepare

BRADENTON — Just when Anna Maria Island hotelier Michael Patrick felt economic conditions were improving, the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico gave him another crisis to monitor.

“You make progress and then all of a sudden you have something cutting you off at the knees potentially,” said Patrick, owner of Tropic Isle Inn in Bradenton Beach.

Patrick was one of 50 local business owners to attend a seminar Wednesday to discuss the oil spill’s potential impact on local business and tourism.

The two-hour event hosted by the Manatee Chamber of Commerce drew several hoteliers who said they will be closely monitoring their revenue this year in light of the April 20 Deepwater Horizon explosion.

“If we start getting cancellations or feel tourists’ questions are coming from a negative standpoint, we’re going to keep a record of that,” Patrick said.

Lawyers from the Bradenton law firm Kirk Pinkerton said such records will be key should local businesses want to file a claim to seek reimbursement of revenue losses related to the oil spill. Under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, BP can be held responsible for settling claims of economic loss and damage related to the oil spill.

“If you may have any indication of loss due to the oil spill, document it now,” said Bill Robertson, an attorney for Kirk Pinkerton. “Documenting these incidents on an ongoing basis will leave less wiggle room for BP to fight your claim.”

Casey Colburn, an environmental attorney for Kirk Pinkerton, said their advice for businesses “is to prepare for the worst and hope for the best.”

Elliott Falcione, an executive manager with the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, said he fears that advice will create a negative perception about Florida’s beaches in light of the oil spill.

“Perception is really vital to what we do,” Falcione said, adding that the media is creating an unnecessary panic about the incident. “If the beaches are clean, that needs to be the lead headline.”

Laurie Feagans, chief of Manatee County Emergency Management, said the county opted not to declare a state of local emergency out of fear it would create a negative perception of Manatee’s beaches.

“Talk about tourism going down the tube,” Feagans said. “It would give an extremely negative impression that tourism is bad and we’re in dire straits.”

However, Gov. Charlie Crist declared a state of emergency for Manatee County along with 25 other coastline counties May 3 as a result of the oil spill.

While there are no reports of oil touching Florida’s coastline, Mary Ann Brockman, president of the Anna Maria Island Chamber, said the potential fallout from the oil spill cannot be ignored.

“We’ve got to admit this oil spill is the worst disaster we’ve ever seen,” Brockman said. “We’re talking 20 years down the line people are not going to come to our beaches if tar is on the island once.”

Holmes Beach hotelier Ken Gerry posed the same concern and, with Brockman, questioned what is being done to prevent oil from washing up on the coastline.

“Is there anything we can do to contain it at sea?” Gerry asked.

Charlie Hunsicker, director of the Department of Natural Resources for Manatee County, said hundreds of miles of floating booms have been dispersed in the Gulf in an effort to trap the oil.

Other than that, Hunsicker said little can be done to prevent oil from washing ashore.

“There is very little we can do in combating or preventing such an effect,” Hunsicker said.

Ed Kirn, property manager of Island Vacation Properties, said the Holmes Beach-based company will address guests’ concerns as they may arise but has seen no cancellations as a result of the oil spill. Falcione said the convention and visitors bureau has recorded 12 cancellations.

“It’s a reality we have to deal with,” Kirn said. “Our focus is on creating a wonderful experience for our guests.”