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Oil threat puts Tarpon Springs businesses in bind

TARPON SPRINGS — Angelique Maalem has never seen it this bad. It's June, and there's no one staying the weekend at the Bavarian Lodge, a bed and breakfast at the edge of downtown.

The tough economy slowed things some, but the perception that there's oil washing up on Pinellas County's sandy shores has halted business, she said.

"It's absolutely horrible," said Maalem, the Bavarian Lodge's innkeeper. "This is the first time that no one was here for the weekend. No one. Usually, the weekends are full.

"For June, we had it booked for the 12th to the 14th with one group, but they canceled because of the oil. It's really, really bad. The phones have literally quit ringing."

Maalem, who filed a financial hardship claim with BP this week, is not the only Tarpon Springs business experiencing the economic pain from oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion in April.

At a forum Monday night to discuss the impact on Tarpon Springs businesses, Dawn Cox of Cox Seafood Tarpon Springs said her seafood shipments have decreased dramatically.

She said a Canadian company that buys seafood from Cox has drastically reduced its orders.

"Our Canadian customers are telling us that their customers are not buying it because they don't think it's safe," she said. "They feel it's better to be safe than sorry."

Cox said some fishermen in the area have already filed claims with BP and received checks. She said her company was all set to renovate and expand its building at the Sponge Docks on Roosevelt Boulevard.

"We had approval and everything, and then this happened," Cox said. "Those plans are now on hold."

Sharhra Anderson, regional director for U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, encouraged businesses that are being hit financially to submit a claim.

And while the oil doesn't appear to be headed this way for now, Tarpon officials are preparing for the worst.

The city has put out a call for volunteers in the event the oil comes to shore. Residents can sign up online, detailing what they can do to help and the type of equipment they have that could be useful.

In addition, the city has contracted with DRC Emergency Services LLC, a Mobile, Ala., company that it usually calls when there's hurricane damage. The city used the company in 2004 and '05.

DRC will work with the city to assess the impact of the spill and will help restore the area to pre-disaster conditions if necessary.

"We are as prepared as we know how to be," said acting fire Chief Rick Butcher. "Honestly, in the world of emergency management, you watch everyone else and what's working for them and what's not and you adjust accordingly. We are watching other folks and preparing for the worst."

Maalem is also keeping a watchful eye, but she's frustrated. She spoke with a claims adjuster out of Huntsville, La., because there isn't a claims office anywhere near the area. But she really wants to speak to someone face to face, she said.

In the meantime, the 10-room lodge is mostly empty and the light bill is still $900 a month.

"If you are not making the income, you can't take care of your electricity, water … stuff to keep the building going, and it's gotten very hard," Maalem said. "It's very upsetting, but BP asked for mounds of paperwork, and then you send it in, then you can't reach them. It's horrible."

Demorris A. Lee can be reached at dalee@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4174.

. Fast facts

What you can do

To submit a claim for damages to BP, call 1-800-440-0858.

To sign up to be volunteer in Tarpon Springs, call (727) 938-3737 or visit the city's website at www.ctsfl.us.

Oil threat puts Tarpon Springs businesses in bind 06/23/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 23, 2010 8:01pm]
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