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In La. beach town, bitter farewells to a lost summer

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 5, 2010; 7:58 PM

GRAND ISLE, LA. -

This is it. It is over. Summer is lost.

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Those were Fred Marshall's thoughts as he slumped behind his tiny desk at Gulfstream Marina, worry lines criss-crossing his face, redness framing his weary blue-green eyes in this picturesque beach town.

When BP's oil started flowing into the Gulf of Mexico in April, beachgoers and money stopped flowing into town. By the time the company managed to cap the deep-water well in mid-July, the damage was done. Summer, when Grand Isle merchants earn the profits they rely on for the rest of the year, was gone, said Marshall, 48.

Grand Isle depends heavily on tourism, and its beach is a major draw in Louisiana. Residents often travel more than 100 miles to bathe there. As Labor Day weekend, the traditional end of summer, comes to a close, less than half of the seven-mile beach has been reopened by workers, who cleared away oil and tar balls. Business lifted slightly, but Marshall and other merchants were in no mood to celebrate. Louisianans turn their attention from fishing and the beach to other forms of recreation in September, namely football and hunting.

"We lost 90 percent of our business," said Marshall, an assistant manager at the marina. Like the owners of souvenir shops, eateries and bars, and even the priest at the local Catholic church, Marshall said he filed a business loss claim against BP at the area community center and was preparing to file another.

"I'm extremely angry. I had to go into therapy. I got really depressed. It was terrible," he said. "I was really expecting a good season. Now we'll be barely able to pay our electric bill in the winter. I might be out of a job because they can't have me here doing nothing."

A boy wearing a fishing cap popped his head in the door. "Can I help you, son?" Marshall asked. The boy's family was about to sail into the gulf for some recreational fishing, and he wondered if Marshall had fresh bait.

"No," Marshall said, as if for the hundredth time. "The people who catch our fresh shrimp and other bait are working as oil spotters for BP."

Merchants said BP's workers are as much a part of the problem as they are the solution. Their labor reopened six of the beach's 15 zones since Memorial Day, the traditional start of summer. But they also occupy most of the hotel rooms and guesthouses, prompting lodges such as Grand Isle Suites to post "no vacancy" signs.

"The thing that ticks me off is you can't rent anywhere," said Delphine Honeycutt, 34, who sunned on the beach in a black bikini after driving more than 60 miles from Houma with her boyfriend, Jan Van Steaden, 38, and their children. When the day is over, they'll have to drive back, taking dollars that would have paid for drinks, snacks and dinner.

"It's all about cleaning the beach right now," Van Steaden said. "But for the people who bring the money to the beach, there's no place to stay."


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