MDA Should Promote, Not Diminish,
the Value of Our Most Precious Tourism Assets
Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2012
President of Gulf Coast Attractions Association
National Parks are just that: serene, picturesque parks where we can, if only for a brief moment or two, escape the ugliness and stress of the world beyond their borders. Gulf Islands National Seashore is such a place. In 1971, this sanctuary was established to ensure the Mississippi barrier islands are preserved and protected for future generations.
A proposal to open up state waters to oil and gas drilling is a direct threat to a 40-year effort to conserve these exquisite sand islands for our children. Recently, the Mississippi Development Authority, the agency tasked with promoting tourism, gave in to pressure from out-going Gov. Haley Barbour and posted a last-minute notice announcing draft regulations that would clear the way for leasing significant portions of our state’s marine waters to energy companies. As it stands now, the thousands of coastal residents and businesses that could be impacted by this complex proposal have been given only until Friday to ask questions and voice concerns to MDA officials.
On his way out the door, it appears that Gov. Barbour is once again attempting to fast track contentious public policy before anyone has a chance to challenge his authority. We shouldn’t risk spoiling a proven economic resource like our national seashore just to provide a handout to the state’s powerful oil and gas industry.
A 2005 study prepared by Dr. Jeff Bounds, originally from Gulfport, determined that allowing industrial activity such as oil and gas exploration near a popular natural attraction such as a beach or scenic area will result in a 5 percent or more reduction in tourist visits to the host community (see the full report: twelvemilessouthcoalition.com).
Gulf Islands National Seashore, along with the National Battlefield at Vicksburg and the Natchez Trace Parkway are critical to Mississippi’s growing tourism industry and the gateway cities where they are located. These exceptional places are historical, environmental and economic treasures and must be protected from any type activity with the potential to adversely impact their natural and historic value. Although national parks account for less than one-thirteenth of one percent of our national budget, they generate significant revenue for the fortunate states where they are located. Each dollar invested in a national park results in a four dollar return to the economy, mostly through private sector jobs.
Any potential oil and gas royalties MDA claims will be forthcoming to county boards of supervisors, municipalities and state agencies will be wiped out by the loss in tourist dollars, and the unknown cost to regulate and manage this very complicated and hazardous industry.
The people of the Gulf Coast are not opposed to the oil and gas industry. Those of us who live in this region understand how important off-shore drilling is to our economy. There are more than 3,000 drilling sites south of Ship Island and Fort Massachusetts.
But the drilling platforms associated with current operations do not dominate the unimpaired viewshed found on the south side of the Mississippi barrier islands like they do off Dauphin Island, Alabama. A visit to Dauphin Island is proof positive that allowing drilling platforms within the three miles of state controlled waters south of Petit Bois, Horn, Ship and Cat islands is not a sufficient distance to prevent the noise and visual impacts from affecting one’s visitor experience to the National Seashore. Elements such as wilderness, solitude and unaltered night sky are what make national parks so special, and why thousands of people from around the nation and the world visit the Mississippi islands each year.
A recent front page headline in the Sun Herald read “Tourism, government were biggest-growing job sectors on the Coast in 2011.” Billions of dollars have been spent and will be spent transforming the Mississippi Gulf Coast into a premier tourist destination. Tourism alone accounts for 17 percent of the area’s employment. Local tourism leaders are planning one of the largest advertising campaigns in state history thanks to $16 million provided by BP. Resources are finally available to properly showcase the wonderful culture, history and natural resources of South Mississippi to the nation and world. BP restoration money is also funding a project directed by the Mississippi Department of Marine
Resources that will create dozens of artificial fishing reefs throughout the Sound, while the federal government is spending millions to rebuild Ship Island to the size it was prior to Hurricane Camille. The popular island beaches will be longer and more beautiful than ever.
Instead of MDA officials pushing offshore drilling next to the state’s most valuable waterfront property, they should be working on ways to bring more visitors to the area by promoting and not diminishing the value of some of the state’s most precious tourism assets, Gulf Islands National Seashore. In 2005, just a few weeks before Katrina, Coast tourism leaders, mayors, county supervisors, federal and state legislators and a few thousand concerned citizens came together in a rare show of solidarity to oppose a bad idea. Let’s hope it happens again.
P R E S S C O N F E R E N C E A N D
P E A C E F U L D E M O N S T R A T I O N
8:45am Monday 12 March –
Please come if you can!
Protecting the Mississippi Coast and Barrier Islands from
Inappropriate Oil and Gas Exploration and Drilling
PLEASE SIGN AND SUBMIT: Petition from the Sierra Club to Governor Bryant regarding efforts to Stop Drilling on Mississippi’s Seashore and protect the Gulf Islands National Seashore. “Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant and other state leaders continue to press forward on this reckless proposal. So far they have shown little regard to concerns being raised about economic impacts to tourism and fisheries, marred views, light and noise pollution, and risks from industry spills and accidents like the 2010 BP oil disaster. We need to show the outrage that is due. Our state’s leaders seem to think that they can pull a fast one on the people of Mississippi who value our coast and want to see it protected.”
http://action.sierraclub.org/site/MessageViewer?em_id=230481.0&dlv_id=199081 Sierra Club: Email – Say No to Drilling Gulf Islands Seashore action.sierraclub.org In 2005, thousands of citizens acted to defeat a misguided proposal to drill along Mississippi’s coast — a move that would disrupt and endanger the wild legacy and recreational value of our islands and beaches.Now it’s time to stop state leaders from trying to go down this path a second time.Say n..
Captain Louis Skrmetta owns and manages Ship Island Excursions, P.O. Box 1467 Gulfport, MS 39502. He is also president of the MS Gulf Coast Attractions Association (mississippifun.org).