Gulf Shores Mayor Robert Craft testified before the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure on the need for the RESTORE act to be approved by Congress. The act will direct a large portion of fines expected to be paid by BP to the five coastal states affected by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster.
Here are his remarks:
Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, thank you for inviting me to testify today. First let me state again how much the coastal residents along the Gulf of Mexico appreciate your interest in our region as you consider the Restore Act. I believe the Restore Act contains requirements for eligible spending which will ensure the American taxpayer and annual return on this investment.
As Mayor of Gulf Shores, Alabama, a coastal city located directly on the Gulf of Mexico, we work closely with our sister city, Orange Beach, to support and enhance a dynamic beach tourism industry.
In 2009 we hosted 4.6 million visitors on just 32 miles of sugar-white sand beaches. This provided direct spending of over $2.3 billion creating over 40.000 tourism jobs.
In the pre-spill first quarter of 2010 our lodging tax, the only accurate measure of performance, was up 17 percent in Gulf Shores alone indicating the promise of a record year. If two cities, one county with only 32 miles of beaches and in one of the Gulf’s many industries and this much at risk consider the cumulative threat to the thousand miles of Gulf between Florida and Texas.
Ports along the coast struggled during this time to deflect the assumptions by many that they would be closed to traffic. The export-focus ports along the Gulf coast are important to many sectors of the U.S. And local economies. Add to that the billions of dollars and thousands of jobs created by the Gulf’s oil and gas industry as well as the commercial seafood harvesting and processing industry and you understand the value of the coastal Gulf to the nation’s economy.
On April 20, 2010, with the tragic events resulting in the Deepwater Horizon accident, our world changed, most probably for years to come. All of our Gulf-related industries came to a halt. Areas of the Gulf were closed to all activities, vacations were canceled, jobs were lost and many small businesses with generations of history closed.
As the oil spread throughout the Gulf so did the impact on the entire Gulf economy and reputation. In south Baldwin County alone tourism dollars in July, our busiest month, were down nearly 70 percent. Also in July, when large areas of Gulf waters were closed, our seafood landings were down an unbelievable 97 percent.
Surveys confirm that 75 percent of people nationwide had significant concerns regarding the safety of Gulf seafood. Those safety concerns along with major reputational damage for the entire Gulf resulted in many lost customers and business failures.
2011 was a much better year for our coast. Tourism and seafood were beginning to recover, but we all must understand why. BP funded $179 million in tourism grants and commitments. BP also funded $72 million for seafood testing and additional marketing. In addition, BP spent untold millions on protecting their brand and promoting their reputation with broad media ads touting the recovery and safety of the beaches and seafood. This dramatic increase in marketing is the main reason we had a good 2011.
The future remains a serious question since no such commitments exist from BP going forward. When BP leaves, the future’s up to us. There are still many unanswered questions. As analysis continues on the safety of our Gulf we wonder will there be any future unknowns that affect the marketability of our product. Will the oil or dispersants destroy our juvenile population of seafood? Will our small businesses and fishermen survive?
The businesses that are still here, and many aren’t, have seriously depleted reserves. This loss of reserves combined with damaged access to credit and any future impact, be it more spill effects, further economic downturn or a tropical weather event, we’ll certainly see more businesses closed.
The entire Gulf coast economy faces a continued threat from providing the energy resources that the nation demands daily. But even with this exposure, which has a magnitude that we now all grasp, I believe the majority of us on the coast completely support continued safe drilling in our Gulf and encourage aggressive efforts create energy independence for our country.
All we ask as those who are negligent are fined that the fine money be directed to the coastal economies that were damaged. This will allow us to recover and continue to generate tax dollars each year to the benefit of all Americans. The Restore Act contains strict requirements for eligible spending. These appropriate restrictions ensure the American taxpayers will receive an annual return on investment.
There is no doubt that the Gulf Coast is of vital national importance. The ports, the seafood industry, the energy industry and tourism all provide benefits to the entire country. It is absolutely in the nation’s interest to ensure that the Gulf Coast is able to boost its resiliency.