From Beast Corps correspondent Franklin Hayes:
As the largest potential economic disaster loomed in the Gulf of Mexico just a few miles off the coast of Pensacola Beach, the Sunshine State’s sitting Governor addressed reporters gathered in Escambia County’s Emergency Operations Center yesterday.
REACTION OF STATE OFFICIALS
Governor Charlie Crist used the opportunity to reveal his plans of addressing the President in person when he visits New Orleans this week.
“This (effort) is all of us trying to pull together to protect our state and the other Gulf states,” Crist said. “A concern all of us have is that decisions are not being made very rapidly.”
Crist described what he saw from a helicopter tour earlier in the day on June 3 as a “light sheen. I didn’t see any huge globs of oil,” Crist said, dressed in a polo shirt and blue jeans, a uniform most other state officials, not counting CFO Sink, mimicked in some way.
On that particular afternoon, Crist said he saw a smaller patch about three miles off the coast of Pensacola Beach but that the majority of the growing slick was still about 10 miles out to sea.
“As Floridians always do, we have banded together,” Crist said.
In a letter addressed to the U.S. Attorney General, Florida’s Attorney General Bill McCollum said he asked for more resources for this area.
“We didn’t have authority for the Coast Guard to have command and control,” McCollum said, expressing his wish and reflecting the Governor’s opinion that more should be delegated to the military. “We need someone in the Obama administration to pay attention to this area.”
In his letter, the state’s attorney general reiterated his belief that the president and his administration did not fully understand or appreciate the imminent crisis Florida is facing in the wake of the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history.
“It is disturbing that Florida is not commanding the full attention of the federal government.”
REACTION OF SMALL LOCAL BUSINESS OWNERS
Earlier that day Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink addressed small local business owners in the lobby of Island Cove Marina in Pensacola.
“I was here four weeks ago to talk about the economic impact on commercial fishing, and hotel and motel owners getting cancellations.”
Local business owners expressed their displeasure with how the giant oil company had handled the emergency so far.
“We want money to keep our heads above water,” said Anita Naybor with Island Cove Marina.
A hotel owner in Navarre said the potential disaster had already had a major impact on his business.
“We had our first increase in profit in April and I thought ‘We’re finally out of this recession,’” said Baker Clark, who runs the Best Western in Navarre. “Now we’re down by 60 percent. I filed a claim with BP four weeks ago. (Proper compensation for) last month would have been $25,000m this month would be $100,000 and next month would be $150,000.”
Cliff Long, who works with governmental affairs for the Emerald Coast Association of Realtors said his clients’ phones have stopped ringing. “If they don’t make money today, there won’t be any money tomorrow.”
Sink, a gubernatorial candidate in the next election, said she understood the business owners’ concerns and commented that help could be sought either through BP directly or through the Small Business Administration.
“BP generates $15 to $20 billion a year. They can certainly afford to step up more than they have,” Sink said. Sink pointed to a handful of agencies for other organizations that should be able to handle the paperwork required to file claims.
Sink also said BP agreed to donate $24 million to the state of Florida for advertising purposes. “BP ought to compensate any business or any individual because of the impact of this oil field,” Sink said.
REACTION OF LOCAL OFFICIALS
Escambia County Sherriff David Morgan, Commissioners Gene Valentino and Grover Robinson were just a few of the local officials on hand for the Governor’s press conference.
“Local and state officials are ramping up the heat and the problem is now at our doorstep,” Morgan said. “The time for finger pointing is over. We need affirmative action from elected officials and if there’s not a response from higher officials then you will see a response locally.”
Morgan expressed his frustration at how long BP was taking to feed live video to the EOC. Morgan also described plans for the Civil Air Patrol to be able to monitor the slick.
Commissioner Valentino, who is up for re-election in the next election, expressed his “righteous indignation over the lack of timely information.” Valentino also discussed closing the beach within 48 hours of the governor’s press conference.
“We asked about a week and a half ago for money from BP when this thing was 20 miles out. Now it’s less than seven.”