CLEARWATER — Mayor Frank Hibbard toured oil-soaked marshes off the Louisiana Gulf Coast on Monday and was moved by the breadth of the damage.
"It's amazing how many of the marshes have already been infiltrated," said Hibbard, who joined leaders from 16 other cities on the boat tour organized by the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
Hibbard, who was back at work Tuesday, also was touched by how the Deepwater Horizon oil rig spill has affected local businesspeople.
"I was talking to a lot of the fishermen, who are second, third and fourth generation," he said. "They're concerned that the estuaries and the fisheries may take decades to recover and what that means to their livelihood and a lifestyle."
The tour, which departed from a boat dock in Lafitte, La., just south of New Orleans, included briefings by the U.S. Coast Guard and BP representatives about efforts to protect the marshes and to clean up areas that already have been impacted.
He was reassured by reports from Coast Guard officials saying they were confident the loop current and natural shelf would keep the oil away from Pinellas shores and that even if it got here the oil would be significantly weathered.
But, he said, a major storm could zap those projections and delay cleaning efforts.
Hibbard, the only Tampa Bay leader to participate, also saw how Louisiana is dealing with issues similar to those we're dealing with, he said.
"They're not only battling the oil. They're also battling perception," Hibbard said.
For example, he said, the reputation of seafood from that area has been tainted. But, reports the Louisiana Seafood Promotion & Marketing Board, 70 percent of Louisiana's coastline remains open to fishing.
Hibbard, who shot a lot of pictures during the tour, plans to make a presentation to the City Council on Monday.