Gulf Notebook

Along the Louisiana coast, months of struggle, hope

Associated Press / July 29, 2010

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A hundred days ago, business was booming at Barrios Seafood Restaurant in Golden Meadow, La., during Lent, when many of the Roman Catholics in southern Louisiana forgo meat on Fridays or altogether. Customers were lined up for meals of crab, shrimp, fish, and other seafood delivered hours after being pulled from the gulf.

Alicia and Thomas Barrios believed their years of struggling to get the business going were finally paying off. They began sprucing up the restaurant, adding a patio with visions of customers lingering there this summer. Then the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and the oil began filling the gulf.

“I’d say about 50 percent of our business was tourist, and they stopped coming immediately,’’ Alicia said. “Seafood got hard to get, the price went up, and people are worried about eating it.’’

The 100 days since the April 20 explosion have been a gut-wrenching time for folks who work, play, and live along the Gulf Coast. These days, Thomas Barrios is working in the Vessels of Opportunity program, helping BP clean up the spill. Alicia Barrios has had to lay off two of her employees, and the adjacent market is open only two days a week.

She’s also thinking about how to change the menu if the price of seafood keeps going up and it remains scarce. “I guess we could start serving pasta and hamburgers,’’ she said. “But I’m afraid to spend the money on a new sign and menus.’’

Oil worker fears for future
A hundred days ago, Joey Rojas was in a training session for his job as an oil pipeline production operator when he heard about the rig explosion. He figured it would be cleaned up in a few days, but soon he was worrying about the future of his entire industry.

Two weeks after high school graduation, Rojas, 24, bucked a long family tradition of commercial fishing to take a job in southern Louisiana’s oil country. He hasn’t looked back — until now.

He worries about a push by federal officials to impose a deepwater drilling moratorium and new regulations. “Will I have to look at another job? Will I be paying $5 or $6 at the pump?’’ he asked.

Every so often, he thinks about another line of work. But there’s little chance he’ll find one that would pay as much while allowing him to live near his family in the fishing village of Port Sulphur.

Shop owner hopeful
A hundred days ago, Frank Besson was raking in money at the tourism empire he’s built on Grand Isle, La., a spit of land along the coast where vacationers have flocked for decades. What started with his father’s souvenir shop expanded to a daiquiri bar across the street and a restaurant next door.

On a good day, he used to make $1,600. The shop’s take last Saturday, when the island hosted a benefit concert? A measly $28.18, he said, pointing to the day’s receipt.

The restaurant is closed indefinitely. The daiquiri bar opens late each night to a trickle of customers. And most days you can find Besson inside his locked souvenir shop, watching a tiny television.

The only thing that’s keeping the business afloat, he said ruefully, is that BP leased two of his rental homes and signed a catering contract with his closed restaurant. Besson, 61, is still optimistic that business will turn around and he’ll be able to reopen his restaurant. But for now, he’s actually hoping for a storm.

“We want some rough weather so we can disperse and dissolve some of that stuff,’’ he said.