FROM: Pat Kettles, Anniston resident and Gulf Coast property owner
Though the pristine beaches along this stretch of prime real estate had yet to be impacted by landfall oil when I left the area after the Memorial Day holiday, locals along the Riviera were bracing for that inevitability.
The week following Memorial Day weekend is typically busy along the Gulf Coast. Hotels and condos are fully booked with family vacationers. But this year, people cleared out after the weekend, leaving beaches virtually deserted, as if Jaws had been spotted lurking off the coast.
Lodging bookings are important to the locals, because those who lodge also dine, shop and book excursions on fishing boats — all of which generates tax dollars for local municipalities dependent on these dollars to provide services to visitors and residents alike.
In an area that survived Hurricane Ivan only to be blindsided by the recession, things had started to look up. Foreclosures seemed to have bottomed out, and hopefulness was less elusive. But on April 20 that all changed, when the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded, spewing thousands of gallons of yet-to-be-abated oil into our treasured Gulf, forever changing life for those who live along the Gulf Coast, and for the thousands who travel there each year for family vacations.
The affectionate nickname for this area, the Redneck Riviera, was probably first spoken in scorn, because for years this destination was a place for blue-collar families to vacation. Available accommodations were cheap and restaurants non-existent, but there were plenty of local spots serving up an abundance of inexpensive local fare from the sea.
Since then much has changed, with lodging development in this area now dominated by condos looking like they would be more at home on the real Riviera. But this destination remains doable for a large percentage of residents whose states border the Gulf Coast.
This is an area where tourists share the same affinity for place felt by lifelong residents. These tourists feel ownership of this area just as certainly as if they owned property there. The Gulf Coast is part of my heritage, and theirs.
Then there are the permanent residents, bless them all, the fishermen, small business owners and hotel staff, who have an up-close and personal view of their livelihoods ripped away through no fault of their own.
Today, the Orange Beach fishing fleet is grounded because federal waters are now off limits to fishing. How will those who own boats make their payments, feed their families, keep a roof over their heads, support their churches, pay their taxes and survive?
How will those not dependent on the sea, but invested in condos and rental property, hold on to these properties when there are no vacationers to generate income?
How will anyone rent, sell or even give away property that overlooks a sea of oil?
Mr. Hayward, you have said you will “make us whole again.” At a recent Orange Beach town-hall meeting, one of your minions was asked to elaborate on the meaning of this phrase, but he was loath to explain.
Please be advised that we will never be whole again, Mr. Hayward. Not I, not a 57-year-old Bon Secour shrimper friend of mine who has been on the sea since he was 13, and not the millions of people who have enjoyed an annual respite in paradise lost, who also would like to have their lives back. Unlike you, they have the certainty this will never happen.
Pat Kettles is the wine columnist for The Anniston Star. She has been vacationing on the Alabama coast since the 1950s.