PENSACOLA BEACH, Fla. (AP) - Gov. Charlie Crist said Wednesday he was encouraged by news that the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico may be sealed, but business owners in the Florida Panhandle cautioned that it won't solve all the problems the spill has caused.
"The end to the leak is good news, but the damage has been done," said Joey Yerkes, 43, who sold live bait in Destin and cast nets as a commercial fisherman until the spill.
BP said Wednesday that crude was being pushed back down to its source on the seafloor for the first time since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded off Louisiana on April 20, killing 11 workers.
That means the procedure known as a "static kill" appears to be working, though crews now must decide whether to follow up by pumping cement down the broken wellhead.
In Miami for a bill signing, Crist said he was keeping his fingers crossed that the plug holds and that tourists return to the state before the end of the season.
"I met with some business leaders here in Miami yesterday, talking about making sure people throughout the world understand that our beaches are clean," Crist said. "Please come and visit our state. Tourism is so important to our economy."
Tourism officials said they were focused on encouraging people to visit the Panhandle through the fall.
"Killing the Deepwater Horizon well is very, very, very good news," said Dan Rowe, president of the Panama City Convention and Visitors Bureau. "It allows us to stop the imagery of just the oil pumping into the Gulf of Mexico."
Business owners in the Panhandle were more skeptical. Even though the white beaches and emerald waters here have remained mostly clear throughout the summer, tourists stayed away, forcing owners of oyster bars, beachfront motels and charter boats to file claims with BP.
Many say their summer is a bust whether the leak is stopped or not.
At the entrance to Gulf Islands National Seashore on Pensacola Beach, Don Allen had time to chat under a blue beach umbrella and marvel at pelicans flying in formation overhead. He wasn't
expecting to sell many snow cones or Italian sausages from his food truck. Most of his customers this summer have been cleanup workers, and their numbers dwindled as temperatures rose.
"There's no rush. Nobody's coming," he said. "I was even thinking about not coming today."
Allen, 60, bought the snow cone and sausage business the week the rig exploded, and he opened his truck on the beach on May 1. He had to lay off his 18-year-old son because business has been so slow, and now he's thinking about returning to his former job as a federal food inspector.
"This was supposed to be my retirement. It's discouraging. I was hoping for big things," Allen said. "Phooey."
Yerkes said he wouldn't know what to do about his fishing businesses until he knew more about the long-term effects of the dispersants used to break up the oil.
"Going forward, I'm not sure how it's going to affect my bait stock, my commercial fishing stock. We don't know the effects of the dispersant on fish or on people," Yerkes said.