CLEARWATER — Mayor Frank Hibbard wants Clearwater to do more to prepare for possible contamination from the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and also plans to send the Obama administration a letter expressing concern over the federal government's response to it.
"Right now the currents are keeping it away, but I've got to believe there is potential for it to eventually end up on our beaches," the mayor said. "I want to talk about training volunteers ahead of time so that we have an army of people ready."
Noting that tourism is Clearwater's largest industry, he said the spill could be potentially damaging to the local economy. Even if the oil goes to other parts of Florida, like the Keys or the Panhandle, some tourists might stay away from the state entirely.
"It could be devastating to us, even if it doesn't hit us but it hits Florida," Hibbard said.
Clearwater and Pinellas County authorities have been watching the oil spill closely.
Clearwater staffers have photographed the beach to document how it appears now. The Property Appraiser's Office has been taking aerial footage of the Pinellas coastline.
The local tourism bureau, Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater, has been promoting live webcams from Clearwater Beach and St. Pete Beach on its website to reassure potential visitors that beaches are oil-free now.
Pinellas County Emergency Management has considered offering the use of the county's beach parks as staging areas to fight the spill, if necessary.
Clearwater's City Council was to discuss the oil spill toward the end of Thursday night's meeting.
If the oil spill spreads here, plans are to place booms in the water to block local inlets, like Clearwater and Dunedin passes and protect estuaries and mangroves.
There's no similar plan for the beaches, though.
"They won't protect the beaches because it's too big a job," Hibbard said, adding that volunteers could help with that task.
Hibbard also wants to send a letter to President Barack Obama's administration. He thinks the federal government should be more involved in efforts to contain the spill, instead of leaving it to BP.
"There should be all hands on deck for this," he said, "to try to get this contained."
Mike Brassfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4160.