Special Reports

Gov. Crist meets with business owners already facing losses

ST. PETE BEACH — Gov. Charlie Crist on Monday sympathized with business owners, who complained that they’re already registering losses from the huge Gulf oil spill, even though most of the state’s coastline so far remains pristine.

The governor also said it was “pretty definite” he would call for a legislative special session as early as next month to consider a constitutional amendment that would ban offshore drilling, coupled with consideration of renewable energy options, in an effort to move toward “more green” technologies.

“I’ve wanted to do it for quite some time,” he said of the ban during a stroll along a clean, sugar-sand beach.

While the state House leadership seems reluctant, its Senate counterpart may be more amicable to the idea of a ban, Crist said.

“I remain hopeful that we can form a consensus, and maybe as early as next month be able to do so, and talk about renewables at the same time. I mean, it only makes logic to me that we should do that,” he said.

Among those urging such a course was Mary Wilkerson, owner of Gulfside Resorts, at Indian Rocks Beach, who suggested that the state try to transition away from use of fossil fuels like oil and gas, and toward clean, renewable energy, like wind or solar.

“We are a resilient people in the state of Florida,” she said, “but let’s also use this opportunity to be the ‘big picture people’ that we know we are. This is a perfect opportunity, as a number of people have said, to transition to clean energy and renewable energies.”

Patricia Hubbard, who said her family has operated Madeira Beach businesses for five generations, said she is facing a “catastrophic” business loss because of fears of oil, on top of a disastrous economy, a horrifying winter, and a large construction project on her property that brought tremendous debt.

“We came through this series of circumstances — the economy, the weather, the bridges, the hurricanes,” she said. “We were making it, we were surviving, but we were surviving on a wing and a prayer, and BP has clipped our wings,” she told the governor. “And my restaurant was down 32 percent over this past weekend from the same weekend a year ago.”

The governor offered to call her lender in an effort to try to help, an offer she gratefully accepted.

At one point, Crist said, “BP, I wish would do more,” noting the company is considering issuing a $10.5 billion dividend to its shareholders, even though the company’s runaway well off the Louisiana coast continues to leak oil into the Gulf, and a massive cleanup has barely begun.

“So the last thing that any of you should have to suffer from, or any of us in Florida, or any of the affected states, is them nickle-and-diming anybody,” Crist said.

He argued there is “more than sufficient resources” to try to make everybody whole.

He vowed to make sure the company pays all damages, including losses already accumulating among those in the state’s $60 billion-a-year tourism industry.

“We are committed to doing everything humanly possible to fight for you, to fight for the people, to protect you, and your businesses and your industry, whatever it might be,” he said.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7031.