Spill-Soaked Town's Fourth Is No Celebration

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Jeff Brady/NPR

The fireworks show has been canceled in Grand Isle, La., and the beaches are empty.

In Grand Isle, La., there will be no Independence Day celebration this year. The oil spill that's fouling Gulf Coast waters and beaches is also keeping tourists away.

In Grand Isle, La., there will be no Independence Day celebration this year. The oil spill that's fouling Gulf Coast waters and beaches is also keeping tourists away.

The owner of Bridge Side Cabins and Marina typically pays for a fireworks show to celebrate, but this year, her only customers are workers cleaning up nearby beaches. That's left a gloomy atmosphere in the town, which is a two-hour drive south of New Orleans.

Over the four decades Dodie Vegas' family has owned this business, she says, visiting Grand Isle has become an Independence Day tradition for a lot of Louisiana families.

"Fourth of July is a weekend you barbecue and you boil seafood and you fish. You go to the beach," Vegas says. "The island has everything for that."

This year though, the beaches are closed; there are even guards to keep people away. And there's no fishing allowed with oil in the water. Most years Vegas spends as much as $10,000 for a community fireworks display and music.

"We have no kids. We have no families. We just have workers, so we decided not to put on our fireworks show," Vegas says. "We couldn't afford it anyway."

In Vegas' store there's a rack that used to display fishing poles for sale. Instead of poles, there are push-brooms used to scrub oil off the side of boats. And the tackle and other fishing supplies on the shelves have been replaced with hardhats and safety vests. Vegas started stocking these items hoping to make up for the lost business from tourists.

Outside in a covered area that usually houses the band on July Fourth, boys were playing basketball on Friday. Sixteen-year-old George Torres says these are hard times.

"My stepdad's a yard foreman for an oil company. He's not going to lose his job because they have work coming in, but the work -- it's getting slow -- the hours are getting cut," Torres says. "Instead of working 12 hours a day, he works 10."

Folks around here generally work in one of three industries: oil, tourism or seafood.

"My family has been in the seafood business for four generations," says Robert Collins, 16. "Now it's a matter of asking, 'Is that going to end?' 'Will it keep on going?' 'How long can we survive?'"

Those are the long-term questions these boys have. But George also wonders about the short-term: What's he going to do this weekend?

"It's boring down here -- not to see all your friends who come down here for Fourth of July," he says.

Back inside Vegas' store, there's a steady of line of workers ordering po' boys and pizza from the deli. But Vegas knows it should be even busier than this. She hasn't laid anyone off yet, but she wasn't able to hire all the summer help she usually takes on when school lets out. Vegas says she's worried about the future of her business.

"It just depends on what this oil does to the fishing here and how many years it will take to come back," she says. Copyright 2010 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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