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Saturday, Sep 23, 2017
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With oil gusher plugged, local residents hope recovery can begin

TAMPA - Keith Overton never wants to see that live video again. You know, the one that captured oil spewing nonstop from the Gulf of Mexico floor. That was his first reaction late this afternoon to the news that finally - after 85 days, 16 hours and 25 minutes - oil no longer was gushing from the BP well a mile below the surface of the water. "That 24-hour HD camera is no longer going to be necessary,'' said Overton, the chairman of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association and also an executive at the TradeWinds Island Resorts on St. Pete Beach. "If you sit there and view that camera all day long or check it out periodically during the day, it's hard to overcome that imagery.''
That camera became the way for all of Florida - not to mention the nation, even the world - to watch just how much oil was gushing into the Gulf hour after hour, day after day. The disaster has become the worst environmental catastrophe in U.S. history and has affected states from Texas to Florida. In Florida, 90 percent of the state's shoreline remains unaffected by oil. But the image of the oil - whether it be blackened birds, soiled shorelines or that underwater camera - has affected the state's tourism in a huge way. The TradeWinds has seen an approximately $2 million loss in revenues since April 20, when the rig exploded 40 miles off the Louisiana coast, sending oil cascading into the Gulf. Overton hopes now the recovery - and the economic comeback -- can begin. "There has to be a starting point for that recovery of the mental anguish that people have been through,'' he said. "If today is that day, then that is wonderful.'' Bob Spaeth, executive director of the Southern Offshore Fishing Association, agreed. "It's great,'' he said of the stop in the flow of oil. "That's the beginning. Keeping more of it out of the water gives us a better chance of keeping it out of here.'' Spaeth, who owns Madeira Beach Seafood Co., has seen his business suffer severe impacts from the spill and from the closing of Gulf waters to fishing. "One hundred sixty million gallons is a lot of oil. I can't even imagine 160 million gallons,'' he said. "There's 40,000 gallons in a tanker truck. That's one hell of a lot of oil.'' Spaeth worries about the long-term effects of the oil, from depleted oxygen levels to destroyed mangroves, marsh areas and estuaries. "I hope Mother Nature can somehow rise up and help us clean up this mess,'' he said. "I don't think it's going to go away real soon.'' That is one of Peter Clark's main concerns. "Once the material gets in the marsh, it takes decades for it to decompose naturally,'' said Clark, the executive director of Tampa Bay Watch, a local environmental group. "I think it is a safe bet to assume that a lot of this material is going to end up in Louisiana marshes and along the beaches elsewhere and we will be dealing with it for two years in some areas and for 20 years or longer in other areas.'' Clark said that he wasn't sure a day like today would ever come. "It's very good news. It should have happened 84 days ago,'' Clark said. "It sure seemed like an endless nightmare, day after day after day. I knew sooner or later somebody would be able to figure out how to close that off. I just wish it would have happened a lot earlier than this.''

Reporter Rob Shaw can be reached at (813) 259-7999.

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