Spillway opening impacts Coast tourism

Updated: Jun. 11, 2019 at 3:56 PM CDT
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BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) - The Bonnet Carre Spillway continues to pour trillions of gallons of fresh water from the Mississippi River into Lake Pontchartrain and eventually into the Mississippi Sound.

The impact on the environment has been clear to see. However, the impact the spillway opening has had on Coast tourism is more complex.

So far this year, tourism numbers are higher than last year. But some people question whether they are as good as they could be since the spillway opened. Many charter boat captains are concerned.

“I have noticed a bit of a decline in maybe some July bookings,” said Captain Clarence Seymour.

It’s the same at other water-related tourism businesses like the Biloxi Shrimping Tour, which is operated by Michael Moore.

“We have seen our numbers down, but we still have people coming. But technically, I should be turning people down right now, trying to get people to go on the next trip or the next trip,” said Moore.

Tourists like to buy shrimp off the dock, but the season hasn’t opened yet because of freshwater intrusion. At Ocean Springs Marine Mart, there’s one major problem with the live bait sign. There’s hardly any, according to owner Kenny Dinero.

“If there’s not bait, there are probably not fish also, and people come here. This is a fishing destination for some people,” Dinero explained.

With dolphins washing up dead on shore because of fresh water intrusion, that’s certainly not a good image. Those in charge of tourism promotion are fighting back with an image makeover of their own.

“We’re working hand in hand with the authorities to make sure that we can communicate effectively what is happening, but also educate people that there is no harm whatsoever to come and enjoy our waters and our beach,”said Milton Segarra, the CEO of Coastal Mississippi.

Segarra believes educating visitors about the safety or our water, despite the opening of the Bonnet Carre spillway, is also important in the educational process. He says letting folks know there are lots of things to do on the Coast that don’t involve the water.

“This is not just a sea and sand destination. You can come to the Coast and enjoy an entire lineup of events from festivals, going to the nature and adventure, seeing our museums, to going to our shopping malls,” he explained.

The key goal now is keeping visitors coming despite the opening of the spillway.

Between the two openings this year, the spillway has now been open for 78 days and counting. There’s been no indication from the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers when the spillway will be closed again.

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