Labor Day weekend caps off dismal summer along MS beaches

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by Maya Rodriguez / Eyewitness News

wwltv.com

Posted on September 5, 2010 at 6:39 PM

Updated Monday, Sep 6 at 1:45 AM

 

BILOXI, Ms.-- It is a Labor Day weekend tradition for Alicia Wells and her family: each year they make the nearly four-hour drive from their home in Vicksburg down to the beach in Biloxi.

This year, though, the turnout was not what they expected to see.

"It could have been more," Wells said, as she looked around the beach. "It used to be more before the oil spill."

The BP oil spill created major problems across the Gulf Coast, and Mississippi's beaches were no exception. After rebounding from Hurricane Katrina-inflicted damage five years ago, the oil spill created a new kind of damage, marring miles of beaches with oily tar balls.

"It was a very rough summer," said Janice Jones, with the Mississippi Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau.

While work crews are no longer combing the beaches in Haz-Mat suits, Jones said they are still monitoring the coastline for oil.

"They work the beaches daily. What they do wear are the caution road worker vests, but they don't wear the Haz-Mat suits," she said. "They walk the beaches to see if there are any tar balls and if they do happen to find tar balls, they clean them up as they find them."

Nearly two months after the capping of the oil well, though, there are still concerns about any residual oil that may be in the water.

Ken Maddox and his wife drove down from their home in Jackson to celebrate their 29th wedding anniversary and see the beach -- but they have no plans to actually get in the water.

"You see the people out checking for it. We were out looking," Maddox said. "I didn't get in the water much before the oil slick. I kind of doubt I would get in it now."

With the beaches themselves not exactly luring visitors into the water, the Convention and Visitors Bureau is now counting on a $3 million grant from BP to help turn the tide. The money will be used to advertise fall events, like the upcoming Biloxi Seafood Festival, in the hopes of making up for a dismal summer.

"What it did was allow them to expand their advertising to bring additional people down for that," Jones said. "Then the CVB is going to be producing several films, inviting tour planners, meeting planners and media to help bring people to the coast."

They want to attract people like Ken Maddox. Maddox said, even though he won't dive into the water, he will try to help keep some local businesses afloat by spending his time and money there.

"What little bit I can do, we'll do our part," Maddox said.

The most recent figures the Convention and Visitors Bureau places hotel occupancy along the Mississippi Coast at around 84 percent. However, officials said some of the rooms were not filled with visitors, but rather, with contractors working on the oil spill clean-up.

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