Baseball to beaches: Coast is different 10 years after spill

coronavirus pandemic forced a shutdown, people boarded the ferry “Turtle Runner” for miles of pristine beaches for sunbathing and fishing.

The seashore has a history of sporadic closings because storms often wash out the main road. Ferries could help by providing water access after the next big blow, Park Superintendent Dan Brown said.

“The community has wanted ferry service in the bay for many decades,” he said.

The seashore project represents a post-spill theme regionwide: Residents say there’s more attention than ever to protecting a marine environment that drives the coastal economy and feeds millions of people.

“People are definitely more aware. They see the relationship between the environment and the economy,” said Matt Posner, who manages the spill restoration program in Escambia County, Florida. “It wasn’t like a hurricane, where it was in here and out in 24 hours. It was a constant, grueling 90, 120 days that just never stopped.”

In Louisiana, much of the work restoring the eroding coastline is funded by BP money, including an $18.7 million project to expand Queen Bess Island, a once-shrinking nesting spot for pelicans and other seabirds. The state of Texas purchased about 2,000 acres of land for conservation with $4.4 million in oil-spill money to guarantee the area isn’t developed.

Different places had different needs before and after the spill, officials across affected states agree, and hundreds more projects are in the works with the billions of additional dollars BP is bound to provide. Among them: Florida sewer improvements, more Louisiana island restoration, an ecological learning center in Alabama.

Tony Kennon, mayor of Orange Beach, said as devastating as the spill was, people now understand the importance of keeping the water clean. And the cash that followed changed everything, he said.

“Once we got through the initial crisis and cash-flow crunch, and money started flowing in, we were able to do things that we probably would not have been able to do,” he said.

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