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Rigs take on new meaning

Everyone in Alabama knows how important our coastline and waters are. Most of us have been to Gulf Shores or Orange Beach, and some of us have probably been to Dauphin Island. It is wonderful to look upon Mobile Bay from the city or the Eastern Shore. Some may have been adventurous and explored the tidewater areas of the Mobile River delta when fishing or hunting.
We enjoy the seafood of the area, whether its shrimp from Bayou LaBatre, oysters from the bay, or red snapper from the rich gulf waters.
There is no doubt that the Alabama Gulf Coast is a treasure for our state. It is part of us; it is what makes Alabama great. It is now being threatened by what is shaping up to be the worst environmental disaster in American history.
The BP disaster of the deep water well has released millions of gallons of crude oil into the gulf. The oil slick is thousands of square miles on the surface and untold thousands of feet deep, threatening every aspect of our coast and water resources. It can destroy the fishing industry. It is taking its toll on the tourism industry. It may damage vital ecosystems that are critical for wildlife in our state.
Right now people are hurting.
More than 200 charter fishing captains, property owners, construction workers, restaurateurs and real estate agents recently packed the Orange Beach City Hall to meet with BP representatives. While the oil company said it would make everyone “whole” and pay for the damage, no one at that meeting was happy with the response of the company.
As the all important summer season kicked off during the Memorial Day weekend, there is a foreboding feeling among folks in the hospitality industry along Alabama’s pristine beaches that business could be way down this year, even if there is no major landfall of oil on our coast. The news is just that bad.
Such a downturn would not only be economically cataclysmic to the area, but also for the entire state.
The tourism industry in Baldwin County is worth an estimated $2.3 billion annually, and it is the single largest tourism destination in the state. Tourism has become an increasingly critical part of the state economy, and if it falters there, you will see a ripple effect throughout the state.
Alabamians are doing their part in trying to reduce the impact of the spill and to keep it from destroying the coastal wetlands. Estimates are that almost three out of every four contract workers employed by BP PLC to fight the spill are from the state. More than 2,500 workers are at it every day fighting the spill, and state government has been adamant that most come from the affected area.
As we move forward and the full extent and impact of the spill becomes known, Alabama is ready to hold those companies accountable. Already there are signs that they may try and shirk their responsibilities.
Transocean, the drilling subcontractor for BP, earlier this month asked a federal court in Houston to limit its liability for damages to the cost of the sunken oil platform — about $27 million. BP has also talked about “legitimate claims” and the like.
Whatever it takes, we will make sure that BP pays for what it has done.
Meanwhile, the beaches are open and the seafood being harvested now is safe and unaffected.
As that remains so, we should support our fellow Alabamians by continuing to enjoy the bounty our coast brings us.

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