WASHINGTON — D.T. Minich, executive director of Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater, testified at a Senate hearing Wednesday that the gulf oil contamination is already hurting local tourism.
Some hotels in Pinellas County are down 25 to 30 percent in advanced bookings, he said. One problem is that even though hotel cancellations are refundable in the event that oil hits the beaches, as of now, plane tickets are not.
No oil has reached Pinellas beaches, Minich said, but "right now, it's a perception problem."
Charter fishing, too, is experiencing an abnormal amount of cancellations, and people are calling to ask if it is safe to eat in seafood restaurants, he said.
Visit St. Pete/Clearwater has requested $2.5 million out of the $25 million allotted to Gov. Charlie Crist by BP for a marketing campaign to help combat the negative impact on Florida tourism.
On the broader issue of whether oil companies should have a cap on their risk of damages, Minich said: "Put very simply, it's about fairness: if BP is unable to cap their well, then why should we be forced to put a cap on the damages they are responsible for paying?"
Tampa lawyer Yerrid to advise Crist on spill
Gov. Charlie Crist appointed prominent Tampa lawyer Steve Yerrid as special counsel to advise him on legal issues relating to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
Yerrid, who defended a harbor pilot in the 1980 Sunshine Skyway collapse and has won multiple high-profile lawsuits, will help Crist develop strategies and negotiate with BP as the state deals with potentially disastrous damage to its shoreline and waters.
Yerrid, who is doing the work for free, was part of the Florida legal team that successfully negotiated an $11 billion settlement with the tobacco industry in 1997.
Adm. Allen: BP must be more transparent
In a letter to BP, Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, who is leading the federal response, told company representatives the government wanted to meet with them to ensure they were meeting their commitment to restore the region after the devastation of the spill. "We're getting anecdotal reports, especially during the president's visits down to Grand Isle last week, that there might be some inconsistencies in the claims process," he said. The government wants the company to turn over more records on claims. "They own the data," Allen said. "We need the data," he added, so the government can "move forward to correct any problems we might find."
Another official wants detailed plan from BP
Another top Coast Guard official ordered BP to come up with a plan "to ensure that the remaining oil and gas flowing can be recovered."
In a letter to Doug Suttles, BP's chief operating officer for exploration and production, Rear Adm. James A. Watson, the on-scene coordinator of the unified command that is overseeing the response effort, gave the company three days to provide plans for "parallel, continuous and contingency collection processes."
Among the requirements, Watson wrote, were that any new method to contain the leak be devised to reduce disruptions from hurricanes, when the full flow of oil would once again spew into the gulf.
BP is bringing in a second vessel to increase the amount of oil that can be captured with the containment system siphoning the oil gushing from the sea floor. BP is also bringing in a North Sea shuttle tanker, which will assist in the transport of the oil, and a device that will burn off some of it. The device, called an EverGreen Burner, turns the oil-and-gas mixture into a vapor that is pushed out of its 12 nozzles and burned without creating visible smoke.
Salazar wants BP to cover workers' pay
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told a Senate hearing Wednesday that he would ask BP to repay the salaries of any workers laid off as a result of the six-month moratorium on deep-water exploratory drilling imposed by the U.S. government after the spill. Salazar said he would consider lifting the moratorium early if he received recommendations from a presidential commission investigating the spill sooner than expected. Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., said the moratorium could wreak economic havoc in the gulf region that "exceeds the havoc from the spill itself."
Hernando fishermen want license delay
HERNANDO BEACH — Fishermen and their families gathered along the docks Wednesday afternoon for rally organized by Hernando Beach Seafood owner Kathryn Birren to bring attention to what she called "a growing catastrophe."
Hundreds of people make their living from the more than 40 commercial fishing vessels based in Hernando Beach, but the market for gulf seafood has fallen because of fears of the spill. Many of the commercial captains have less than two weeks to decide whether to renew state saltwater licenses and permits for the coming year, which range from $50 to $400.
Birren and others want state officials to push back the June 30 deadline at least 90 days in the hope that the future of the fishing industry will be clearer by then.
"You're talking about people who have to come up with hundreds of dollars for commercial boat and fishing licenses," she said. "A license isn't going to do anyone much good if they can't go out and fish."
Florida hotline has latest on seafood
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services set up a seafood toll-free hotline — 1-800-357-4273. Callers can get current information about the status of Florida's open and closed fishing harvest areas, the availability of seafood varieties and general pricing information.
Information from Times staff writers Alex Holt and Logan Neill, and the New York Times, Associated Press, Miami Herald, Washington Post and the Deepwater Horizon Response website was used in this report.