Sugar-sand beaches are a prize worth protecting

By Jim Wallace - bio | email

Panama City Beach, FL - (WALB) – Panama City Beach officials are hopeful that the attempt to cap the leaking Deep Water Horizon oil rig is successful.  Emergency officials think this will spare the beaches.

Have you ever wondered where they get all that  white sand that Panama City Beach is best known for?  The city works with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to identify sand on the bottom of the Gulf, that is millions of years old.

They get special permission to raise it and put it on these beaches.  Emergency officials have set up plans in case the oil spill reaches this far,  and are already prepared to replenish the beach if needed.

Tractors work daily to clean and fluff the sugar white sand at Panama City Beach.  They know tourists expect it to be clean and safe.  So far no oil has touched this sand, and emergency leaders have drawn up several emergency plans if the gulf crisis threatens it

"If the oil comes, what condition the oil will be once it gets here.  If it's more of a sheen or if it's more of a carbonized ball, those are unknown.  So we have different plans that are being finalized," said Dan Rowe, President of the Panama City Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Panama City Beach has already identified the sand needed for a complete renourishment program that was slated for later this year.  This oil crisis has them ready to move that time table up if needed.  Heavy equipment is already on standby, and so are environmental plans. The sand not only has to be white, but sanitary.

"Oil is a hazardous material, and folks here cleaning the beach will have to have special training to make sure they are disposing of it appropriately," Rowe said

More than 800 people in the community have already signed up as volunteers in case needed to put out booms and strainers to protect Panama City Beach.  They know these white beaches are what tourists expect, and that the economy will suffer if they are blackened by oil.

Hotel managers tell me that they are still well below their normal occupancy this time of  year, but hopeful that the good news that this oil spill has not reached Panama City Beach will keep many annual visitors from canceling.  Those managers say that if this gulf crisis continues, they fear it could hurt their Memorial Day weekend, one of their biggest money makers of the year.

Most Panama City Beach hotels and property managers have dropped their cancellation notice period to just 24 hours, to assure people they can go ahead and plan their vacation and make reservations, without having to fear the gulf oil crisis. 

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