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Economic worries, especially tourism, linger around gulf

ST. PETE BEACH — A year after the Deepwater Horizon rig began spewing oil, Tampa Bay faces big challenges: economic, environmental and political.

That was the conclusion of a panel of business leaders, environmentalists and academics called together Tuesday by U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, a Tampa Democrat.

Tourism businesses worry about the upcoming summer season, which typically provides a cash cushion for lean times from Labor Day through Thanksgiving. Visitors spooked last summer by images of oil-smeared beaches in the Panhandle detoured from Pinellas to East Coast destinations.

"Wherever they went, will they come back this summer?" asked Patricia Hubbard, whose family owns the Hungry Fisherman Restaurant and portions of John's Pass Village in Madeira Beach.

Pinellas tourism director D.T. Minich worries that television coverage of the spill's anniversary in United Kingdom will scare away summer visitors from the county's largest market of foreign visitors. Economic austerity measures in the United Kingdom aren't helping either.

At Bama Sea Products, a St. Petersburg seafood processor and wholesaler, grocery store orders for gulf shrimp dropped to one-third the amount before the spill, said Michael Stephens, the company's general counsel.

Jackie Dixon, dean of USF's College of Marine Science, said scientists will need to beef up monitoring of the gulf with satellites to access damage and set a baseline to measure the effect of future accidents.

Money from pollution penalties and fines traditionally goes to the federal government, said Castor, who co-chairs the Gulf Coast Caucus. Gulf state congressional members should push for 80 percent of the money from BP sanctions to go toward clean-up and restoration costs, she said.

"Taxpayers can't be on the hook for one dime of that," she said.

Steve Huettel can be reached at huettel@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3384.

Economic worries, especially tourism, linger around gulf 04/19/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 19, 2011 9:12pm]
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