Touring the Gulf: Mississippi

EDITOR'S NOTE: NRN's Southwest bureau chief Ron Ruggless has embarked on a state-by-state look at how the Gulf Coast oil spill has affected restaurateurs who call the area home. Tourism is down and the seafood supply is short following the devastating oil spill, but the entrepreneurial spirit that drives these operators hasn't dimmed. In today's piece, Ruggless reports from Mississippi. His next stop: Alabama. View the full report here. [3]

Driving along the beautiful coastal U.S. 90 highway from Bay St. Louis, Miss., into the casino-centric Biloxi, the effect of the Gulf oil disaster on beach tourism was wildly apparent.

Human activity was dominated by large passenger buses, out of which spilled not tourists but hundreds of yellow-vested cleanup workers tasked with picking up tar balls washing onto the white-sand beaches.

Over the Fourth of July weekend, Mississippi’s Emergency Management Agency continued beach advisories for Jackson and Harrison counties. In addition, the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources closed the Mississippi Sound and other waters to commercial and recreational fishing.

BP Plc., which owns the offshore Deepwater Horizon oil rig that exploded April 20 and led to the still unstopped oil spill, said before the holiday weekend that 600 to 700 workers were dispatched along Mississippi beaches for clean-up during daylight hours and an additional 100 workers worked overnight.

The effect on Gulf Coast tourism — as much as 50 percent of July Fourth bookings in Mississippi’s hotels were reportedly canceled — has darkened the moods of many who cater to the tourists, including restaurateurs.

This area was especially hard hit by storm surges from Hurricane Katrina in 2005, leaving large swaths of devastated beachfront property that have yet to be rebuilt nearly five years later.

Tony Trapani, chef-owner of Trapani’s Eatery in Bay St. Louis, Miss., lost his 11-year-old restaurant during Katrina, and now, five years after he rebuilt, he fears the oil catastrophe may land another blow. View a video of his comments. [4]

Trapani said food costs at his 140-seat restaurant are rising because less-expensive local seafood is no longer available.

“Here we are trying to do the best we can around here in Hancock County, which is probably the worst place in the whole entire world to be living in right now from Katrina and now the oil spill,” he said.

Trapani fears the water that acts as a magnet for residents as well as visitors to the area will be contaminated for years.

“Without that water out there, this area won’t be the same,” he said.

Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected]