PANAMA CITY BEACH — It was meant to be a quick family trip to the Gulf Coast to show that local beaches are safe for swimming and that the Obamas can vacation as humbly as the next family.
But President Barack Obama's visit was overshadowed by his foray into the ground zero mosque dispute, once again drowning out what was supposed to be a sharp, focused message.
The night before leaving Washington, the president defended plans to put an Islamic community center two blocks from where Manhattan's Twin Towers fell.
After arriving on the Gulf Coast on Saturday, he met privately with local business people and assured them he would alert the world that the region was "open for business." That he did.
But in reply to a question from a reporter afterward, he reopened the debate by refining the position he had offered the night before.
Yes, people are free to worship any way they want in America, he said. But he tossed in a caveat: He was not necessarily endorsing "the wisdom" of putting a mosque at that location. Rather, the former constitutional law professor said he was standing up for the landowners' right to put a mosque on private property, even if the building would be near ground zero.
"I was not commenting and I will not comment on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there," he said.
Obama tried to keep the focus on the original purpose of the trip. On Sunday morning, he and his wife and daughter took a boat ride in St. Andrews Bay, watching a pod of porpoises breach the water beside their vessel. Before heading home, the family stopped for large cups of ice cream.
Though the Obamas were in Florida only 26 hours, the trip was an important one for the family.
Later this week, the family leaves for a 10-day stay in tony Martha's Vineyard.
BP faces questions about oily garbage
GRAND ISLE, La. — As beach cleanup is scaled down, the fate of all the oily trash created and collected along the Gulf Coast is causing a raging debate that BP and federal officials are trying hard to curb.
People want to know what is in those trash bags, where they will end up and if the workers handling the oily trash are safe, he said.
The oil from BP's rig explosion in April has already created more than 45,000 tons of garbage — the solid oil and all the materials used to gather it — and much more oily liquid waste. The trash is being shipped every day to nine landfills that store household garbage and non-hazardous industrial waste in communities across Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida.
The federal government issued a 34-page plan directing BP to recycle and reuse as much trash as it can and to post information about the trash it is collecting online. (So far about 50 tons of trash has been recycled, according to BP.) The government also has asked the company to start holding meetings with the communities around the landfills.
Oil spill fears helping tourism in Texas
Texas beach towns are getting a boost from the BP oil spill as Gulf Coast vacationers head west because of concerns about oil-contaminated beaches in Louisiana and Mississippi.
Room rentals at beach hotels in Galveston, Corpus Christi and South Padre rose 5.2 percent in the second quarter from the same period last year, according to the tourism division at the governor's office in Austin.
"If anything, we have benefitted from the disaster," said Edith Fischer, director of tourism at the Brazosport Chamber of Commerce.
Information from Associated Press, Washington Post and McClatchy Newspapers was used in this report.