The city of Largo has joined the flock of municipalities opposing offshore drilling in Florida's waters.
Last week, leaders of the city without beachfront property approved a resolution that opposes drilling within 3 miles of the Gulf Coast. They sided with other local leaders who say drilling closer to shore might threaten the environment and hurt tourism.
Pinellas County, Tarpon Springs, St. Petersburg, Safety Harbor and the Barrier Islands Governmental Council, which represents 11 Pinellas County beach communities, are among those that have passed similar resolutions
An effort that would have allowed drilling from 3 to 10 miles offshore failed the Legislature last session. But local leaders are taking the issue seriously because lobbyists are working aggressively to overturn the ban on oil drilling in state waters. And the subject is expected to be a major issue next session.
During his campaign, at the only candidate debate, Largo City Commissioner Curtis Holmes said, "I am not a great advocate of this willy-nilly drilling off our coast."
But on Dec. 15, Holmes was the only commissioner to oppose the resolution, arguing in support of allowing drilling in state waters.
"This is a revenue producer for the area," Holmes said. "You're going to create the jobs. You're going to get the tax revenue off the thing."
Holmes pointed out that accidental spills from drilling are not common.
And he said that even if there was a spill, there would be little environmental risk to Florida because any oil from a spill would end up in Louisiana or Texas because of the Gulf Stream.
"That's just wrong," according to Robert Weisberg, professor of physical oceanography at the University of South Florida.
If there's a spill in shallower state waters of the gulf, there is "a likelihood it will end up on the beach," said Weisberg, who added his opinion is "tempered by the fact that the industry is fairly safe and fairly clean these days."
Holmes also said that offshore drilling could help tourism.
"Yeah, we want to have the people to come down here," Holmes said. "If they don't have the gas to put in their cars, how are they going to get here?"
He also said opposing such drilling isn't practical.
"Unless we're all willing to stop driving our automobiles, you're going to have to have carbon fuels coming in from somewhere and to my knowledge there's only two of us up here on the dais that could probably get by with very little fuel," Holmes said.
The first was Mayor Pat Gerard, who drives a hybrid car, Holmes said. And second was himself, said Holmes, who usually rides a bike or motorcycle.
Commissioner Mary Gray Black drives a hybrid, too. And Vice Mayor Woody Brown said he fills his tank only about once a month.
"I live about three blocks from my office, so you can put me on that list of people that could survive without fuel," Brown said.
Brown, a member of the Agency on Bay Management and the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, disputed some of Holmes' opinions and said that drilling closer to shore "could be catastrophic" to Florida's tourism industry.
"If you put an oil rig 10 miles off shore and you're standing on Clearwater Beach, you can see it," Brown said. "And I have a problem with that."
Lorri Helfand can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4155.