Tuesday, October 20, 2020

We need economic help to survive the #bargeblunder

 Each week, we put Hurricane Sally farther behind us. But some of the remnants of that fateful day will linger with us, even if our homes and businesses had only minimal damage.

Most of us carry home insurance, car and boat insurance, life and health insurance, fire, flood and wind, among other policies. But when we got the whammy from the Skanska barges taking out the Gen. Chappie James Bridge, we found out there is no insurance for that.

In fact, we learned from Brenton Goodman, attorney with Levin Papantonio, that due to maritime law, there will likely be no economic compensation for businesses that once had 50,000-plus cars traveling by on their way to Pensacola Beach, Navarre, Fort Walton Beach and Destin and now get barely 1,000, if that.

Goodman explained that the reason we got compensation from the BP Oil Spill back in 2010 was due to a precedent set when the Exxon Valdez spilled oil into an Alaskan bay. There is no such precedent for a bridge accident.

That doesn’t mean this could not become the precedent-setting incident. To do that, we will need to muster our elected officials and make enough noise to get their attention and demand they pursue the Florida Department of Transportation and Skanska, the multi-billion dollar company FDOT awarded the bridge replacement to, for their negligence.

We are one month into this situation, and coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic — which kept people from eating out, shopping in person and hosting parties and events — most businesses who were counting on these months to recover are reeling.

The pandemic is continuing, most events are postponed or canceled entirely, and we now have only a trickle of traffic coming into the city of Gulf Breeze.

Thank goodness school is in session, or the place would be a ghost town. When school lets out for Thanksgiving and the holiday season, there will be even fewer people traveling to the western end of the Gulf Breeze peninsula.

The efforts of a couple of motivated women who decided on their own to create a Facebook hashtag of #savethebreeze from the #bargeblunder are helping bring attention to the plight of the local businesses that are hanging in there until the bridge opens or they run out of operating capital, whichever comes first.

City and county leaders are doing their best to replace the bridge with transportation options to bring commuters to and from Gulf Breeze, and so far they have partnered to create a bus system and a potential ferry to cross Pensacola

Bay and bring visitors to the area. Private captains are pressing their fishing and pleasure vessels into service to drop commuters to their destinations.

But it’s not going to replace the visitors who are headed to points east of here, including as far east as Panama City.

We know we’re distracted. Some of us have to get up an hour earlier to make it across the Garcon Point Bridge to get to work, and we get home an hour later. We wonder whether we can fit the additional gas money into our budget, and if the Garcon Point Bridge toll is reinstated after the 30-day reprieve, many of us will have a $10 per day fee to pay on top of everything. Who has time to contact our elected officials to press them into action?

We need their help now, more than ever, to ensure our community is made whole from the #bargeblunder.

Write letters, make phone calls, and keep it up. Remember, the squeaky wheel gets the grease.

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