Many traveling to Florida despite oil threat - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Many traveling to Florida despite oil threat

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By Jennifer Emert - bio | email

ALBANY, GA (WALB) –  Northwest Florida beaches remain open, but oil is showing up in more areas.

Three passes are closed during the incoming tides to keep oil out of inland waters, but that's also stopped recreational fishing boats. Despite the oil, many people from southwest Georgia with homes and vacation plans say they're still heading south.

To entice fishermen, Florida's having a fish free weekend, allowing residents and visitors to fish statewide without a license for Father's Day. While many worry the Panama City Pass will be the next to close during the incoming tide making it harder to get into the gulf to fish, they say that won't stop them from making a trip to the gulf. 

Billy Mathis grew up fishing the gulf. He's fished the past two weekends and was shocked when his boat stopped 35 miles south of Panama City because of an oily sheen on the water.

"The odor was just indescribable, the petroleum, a heavy petroleum odor," said Mathis.

It didn't keep his wife Wendy or himself from reeling in a sizable catch. He's made calls and this weekend, could be stuck on dry land if the pass is closed.

"They moved it yesterday to the Panama City pass south so you can't really fish west of Panama City," said Mathis.

Parks Jones who rents several properties toward Panama City's west end says the oil is scaring off those who've got to travel further.

"The people who canceled were, one was from Indiana, one from North Carolina, and one from Kentucky," said Jones.

It hasn't been a total loss.

"The rebookings have been from Georgia and Alabama," said Jones.

He hopes those with travel plans from the southeast will brave the oil and threat of beach closures.

"It's funny when you do go to the beach, even a big holiday weekend and so forth, as far as people in the water, it's always a very small percentage. People really go for I think the laid back lifestyle," said Jones.

Both hope the wind, currents and booms will be able to fight off what could be devastating for Florida's tourism.

Many with rental properties say they've been staying in close touch with the Senators and Representatives in the areas to keep them up to date on how they're being affected by the crisis and what resources are available for their losses.


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