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BP oil spill: A subdued Fourth of July on Louisiana's Grand Isle

Fourth of July weekend should bring thousands of tourists to Louisiana's Grand Isle. But the BP oil spill leaves beaches nearly deserted. A concert is planned to help fishing and tourism.

By Bill SasserCorrespondent / July 3, 2010

A flock of seagulls are the only visitors at Grand Isle State Park in Louisiana. The beach and water are off limits because of the BP oil spill. This has kept people away at what should be the height of the tourist season.

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Grand Isle, La.

Along state Highway 1 on Grand Isle, La., a flagpole in one yard is flying the Stars and Stripes at half staff and upside down. The Bridge Side Marina has canceled its annual Fourth of July fireworks display. The marina owners say they’re worried that the pyrotechnics could ignite oil floating in nearby Caminada Bay.

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On the holiday weekend during what should be the height of Grand Isle’s summer season, life on the island has been turned upside down.

BP spill-response workers and National Guard soldiers have taken over the campgrounds, motels, and restaurants that would normally throng with summertime visitors. The beaches are vacant except for empty picnic tables, thousands of yards of neon-orange solid boom, and workers in hazmat suits cleaning up oil from the blown BP oil well 50 miles offshore. The oil company has taken over the town’s community center, where its representatives meet with local fishermen and business owners to discuss claims.

IN PICTURES: The Gulf oil spill's impact on nature

The only inhabited barrier island in the state, Grand Isle for generations has been Louisiana's Cape Cod. Although Louisianans enjoy thousands of miles of coastline, they have just a few sand beaches to visit and Grand Isle's is one of two that can be reached without a boat.

Where are the tourists?

Grand Isle’s permanent population of 1,500 normally swells to 10,000 during the summer, but this July local residents say that maybe 100 tourists are here on any given day. Nearly all of the vacation cottages along Highway 1 sit empty, and full-time residents – who have taken to installing inflatable pools in their yards for their children – fear for their property values.

“It’s heartbreaking,” says Tracy Talbot, a real estate broker in New Orleans who grew up spending summers on Grand Isle and now owns a 120-year-old house on the island. “This is affecting people who have been on Grand Isle for generations and were already struggling to stay, with the low prices in the seafood industry, with all the hurricanes, and now this oil.”

Just over a month ago, Ms. Talbot watched from the end of the fishing pier at Grand Isle State Park as the first oil came ashore.

“You could look down and see a sheen that looked like baby oil,” she remembers. “Then globs of oil washed in that seemed to have been diluted by dispersants. It was a burgundy color and looked like jelly.”

Since then, thousands of gallons of crude oil have covered a 30-mile stretch of beaches from Port Fourchon to Grand Terre Island.

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