By JACK WEATHERLY
Beaches on the Mississippi Gulf Coast were given the green light earlier this month after a summer-long shutdown of coastal waters were declared free of harmful algal bloom caused by an influx of fresh water from upstream flooding.
The good news follows a loss of $4.1 million, or 3 percent to 8 percent, in room revenue for June and July at hotels along the three-county coast, according to Coastal Mississippi, which promotes tourism in the area.
Occupancy was down 2 percent to 5 percent for those months, year over year. Figures are not available for the full summer.
Ancillary businesses absorbed a much heavier toll from water conditions.
Beach vendors, fishing charters and other support businesses saw revenue decreases of up to 70 percent.
The tourism industry in the three coastal counties – Hancock, Harrison and Jackson – brought in $2 billion in 2017, about one-third of the statewide figure of $6.4 billion, according to Coastal Mississippi.
“We are delighted that the . . . mainland water are once again open for swimming,” Coastal Mississippi Chief Executive Milton Segarra said in a release. “The fall months in this region provide the perfect weather conditions to spend a relaxing day on our 26 miles of white sand beaches.
The Mississippi Department of Marine Resources announced in July that seafood from the coastal waters were safe to eat after the contamination by blue-green algae that could cause rashes, vomiting and diarrhea ceased.
The algal bloom had been caused by an abundance of nonsaline water dumped into the Mississippi Sound after the floodgates of the Bonnet Carre Spillway were opened in late February to protect upstream land from flooding. The spillway dumped the excess water into Lake Pontchartrain. That water found its way to the Gulf.
The spillway was shut down in late July.
Record-length flooding on the river, which inundated about 250,000 agricultural acres in the Mississippi Delta in the spring, led to the unprecedented downstream use of the spillway to protect New Orleans.
Another bit of good news is the unveiling on Wednesday of the first of Harrison County “outfalls” along the beaches.
Gov. Phil Bryant said in a release issued in November that “these new water outfalls along the Mississippi Gulf Coast will dramatically improve the visual aesthetic along our beaches and reduce sand erosion.”
Necaise Brothers, a Long Beach company, won the construction contract for three of the structures, which cost $5.2 million including engineering done by Gulfport-based Covington Engineering. Design was done by Dale Partners of Jackson.
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