Revisiting the Gulf

After several months away, I had a last-minute opportunity to revisit the Gulf Coast this week. I’ve been reconnecting with the region and talking with people from the Navarre Beach, Florida area for the past couple of days.  We were not able to visit this part of the Gulf on our expedition in August 2010, but I’m thankful for the opportunity to spend some time down here now.

Tomorrow, I’ll be revisiting some of the people in the areas that were part of our original expedition.  Members of the original team have been discussing a return trip to do some follow-up documentary work, and although this particular trip was not a planned visit, I am happy to be able to include some Spirit follow-up now.

In the few conversations I have had here thus far with locals, it seems that there is a sense of eager anticipation for the winter to hurry up and pass so that the tourism season can (hopefully) bring the people back to the region just like they did before the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Sunrise on Navarre Beach, Florida
I spoke with a couple of ladies on the beach yesterday morning that suggested that the media did more to harm the Florida coast than BP did.  This sentiment was echoed by a friend of mine that I had lunch with today, although he conceded that although he didn’t see any visual impact himself, it could be because cleanup crews have been known to patrol the beaches to remove signs of oil and tar balls so that casual observers often don’t see the evidence of the spill.  He also mentioned that he didn’t trust the safety of the seafood and had avoided it almost entirely over the last 9 months.

One of the local restaurants I visited was quite sparsely scattered with patrons, despite the outstanding food and great service they provided.  When I asked the server how the spill had impacted the business, he told me that business was still way down, and there is ongoing struggle to keep people coming in.  It doesn’t help that this week has brought some of the lowest temperatures on record for this area.  Yet, the restaurant that I dined in tonight was packed and is experiencing year over year growth.  The owner informed me that he didn’t cater to the tourist crowd, and the locals have been very supportive.  It was great to hear that some local businesses are doing well despite the spill.

Navarre Beach Pier
Another recurring theme that feels like a continuation of what we heard on the original expedition is that the claims process is complicated and seemingly unfair.  According to the stories I’ve heard, some people are having trouble getting paid.  On the other hand, some are taking the one-time $25,000 payout and praying they made the right decision. It might be a good decision for some, but nobody really knows if the economic impact of the disaster will exceed that amount for individuals living and working along the coast.  It’s a chance that many people along the coast are essentially forced to take.  For some, there is no other option.  If they want to survive, they have to take what they can get from BP now.

In the morning, I head out to visit Coden, Alabama and Pearlington, Mississippi to reconnect with the families we met in August.  We’ve stayed in touch over the last few months, and I look forward to seeing how they are doing so I can share more of their stories here. On this weekend that we are called to service, I’m happy to have the opportunity to serve and support this area that has struggled so much.

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Brandon

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01 2011