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Wednesday, April 7, 2010 as of 11:14 AM ET

Natural Disaster

Brooks Blanton

Atlanta, GA

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Oil Can’t Stop Hope in ‘Margaritaville’

June 29, 2010 - 11:02 AM | by: Brooks Blanton

Monday was a day of nerves and hope for Tamara Baldanza.  While crews cleaned up oil and tarballs on Florida’s Pensacola Beach, Baldanza and her staff at the brand new Margaritaville Beach Hotel were checking in their first guests, serving an inaugural dinner and mixing up those ‘frozen concoctions’ that made Jimmy Buffett a household name.  Fifty percent of the rooms were occupied on this first day of business for the resort — built to reflect the beach lifestyle that Buffett has saluted in song for the past three decades.

Business owners, old and new, are nervous about how the daily deluge of tar and oil on these beaches will impact their bottom line.  Most have reported slumping sales since the sludge from the Deepwater Horizon’s blown-out well started hitting these sugar-white beaches a few weeks ago.  The city’s iconic water tower, painted like a multi-colored beach ball, shows just how much Pensacola Beach relies on tourism.  Despite a reported lag in sales and occupancy at some resorts and restaurants, many here are trying to show resilience — that despite the oil and tarballs on the beach — they are hopeful about the future.

“I think it’s great that we came at this time because we want to be part of the recovery,” says Baldanza, Director of Marketing and Brand Management for Margaritaville Beach Hotel.  ”We want to be part of the Gulf Coast, we want to be part of Pensacola Beach.  And I think there is no better time to open up a Margaritaville than now.”

It was almost an eerie site here last night.  While guests ate a grand-opening dinner in Margaritaville’s beach-front restaurant, a sea of red lights danced along the shoreline.  What looked like hundreds of red fireflies was actually BP workers scooping up oil and tar in the darkness just outside the windows of these towering resorts.  Red flashlights attached to helmets are being used to search for oil at night.  Traditional white lights are known to attract nesting sea turtles that are thrown off-course and disoriented from their journey to reproduce.

The red lights faded as the sun rose on Pensacola Beach.  Workers were still scooping up tarballs that are washing ashore this morning. Red flags flying along the beach warn that swimming is not allowed while oil is present in the water.  Still tourists make their way to the shoreline.  In the meantime, businesses like Margaritaville anxiously hope for the day when cleaning crews and their red lighted helmets come back to Pensacola Beach.

Photo Gallery
Heavy Equipment and Workers on Pensacola Beach, FL
Image 1 of 5
  • Heavy Equipment and Workers on Pensacola Beach, FL
  • Workers Clean-up Tarballs on the Beach
  • Bulldozers Carry Bags Full of Oil-Tainted Sand
  • Sunrise on Pensacola Beach
  • The Beachball-Shaped Water Tower in Pensacola
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