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Dispatch From Alabama: Watching, Waiting for Impact of Oil Spill

Correspondent Tom Bearden has been reporting from Louisiana and Alabama on the impact of the Gulf Coast oil spill and filed this dispatch for the Rundown.

There’s a new feature on the local TV weather forecast in Mobile, Ala.: the oil slick report.

The edge of the vast oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has been hovering off the white sand beaches of south Mississippi and Alabama for the last several days. The latest forecast is for the oil to reach Biloxi, Miss., beaches sometime Sunday. But that may turn out to be as faulty as the earlier predictions over the last week.

Some people we’ve talked to are downright depressed about that prospect. That goes for beachgoers, restaurant owners, government officials, and condominium owners. The prospect of a red tide of oil and the attendant stench of benzene has already led vacationers to cancel their plans to come here, and that is rippling through the local economy.

Beachfront condos normally 90 percent full this time of year on Dauphin Island are only about 10 per cent occupied. They’re doing better toward the east in Gulf Shores, but business is definitely off.

Hard times come in cycles on the coast. South Alabama and the panhandle of Florida were hit hard by Hurricane Ivan in 2004. Several large condominium buildings were damaged beyond repair, and reconstruction was slow. When the national economy tanked, it was even worse here, because one of the first things cash-strapped people do is drop their out-of-town vacation plans. Things had just started looking up when the Deepwater Horizon blew up.

Local tourism boards are trying to promote the idea that Gulf beaches are still clean and open for business. But not for long, if the oil slick forecast is accurate this time.