Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Still Not Impressed

Gulf residents seek more than talk from Obama
At Shaggy's restaurant and bar on the docks in Pass Christian, Miss., heads immediately turned toward the five televisions when the president began speaking. Glasses stopped clinking, and food sat on plates as customers watched and listed intently — for about 10 minutes.

As the president's address went on, interest waned and conversation returned to a loud chatter.

Keath Ladner said the speech gave him some hope, even though his seafood processing business has shut down since the April 20 rig explosion killed 11 people 50 miles off the Louisiana coast and triggered what Obama called the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.

Ladner just prays things begin to change.

"Words are only words. Action means everything," said the 48-year-old who owns Gulf Shores Sea Products in Lakeshore, Miss. "Right now, I believe we need a little bit more government oversight to make sure things are handled properly."

John and Margaret Ehrenreich couldn't depend any more on a clean Gulf Coast that will attract tourists to Pensacola Beach, Fla. They have a miniature golf course, a parasailing business, a go-cart track and personal watercraft rentals as part of their business, Bonifay Watersports.

The couple largely agreed with the Obama's speech, but said they still weren't encouraged about the future of their business. And they're not relying on Obama or BP for that.

"We know that at the highest levels they understand our plight, but we are going to have to get through this on our own. It's not up to him, it's up to us to keep going," John Ehrenreich said.

The couple has survived major hurricanes and economic slumps, but they don't know how they will weather the oil spill.

"I'm not going to say we are going to get through, but we will take it one day at a time and do whatever we can," said John Ehrenreich, 68 who immigrated to the U.S. from the former Yugoslavia at age 15 and built his beach business after discovering the town while serving in the Navy.

Back at Regina Shipp's restaurant, the food is gourmet-quality yet affordable — the view over Perdido Bay, beautiful. Yet the oil spill has gutted the couple's business so badly they're worried about caring for their two young daughters if conditions don't improve quickly. They've filed a $33,000 claim with BP, yet they've only gotten $5,000.

Shipp, 40, hopes Obama's tough talk about BP making pay for the damage wasn't just words, but she has her doubts.

"BP has killed our environment, killed our economy and destroyed our way of life, and they get to say who they're going to pay?" she said.

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