By Ray O'Hanlon
It's no longer a matter of if, but rather when. The BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has thus far largely spared the state of Mississippi's coastline, but in the past few days oil has breached the defensive line of the state's barrier islands and has been bobbing on the surface of Mississippi Sound.
Thus far, thankfully, it has not washed ashore anywhere near Bay St. Louis where Mayo-born Fr. Michael Tracey and a team of parishioners and volunteers are putting the finishing touches to their annual Crab Fest, the main fundraiser for Our Lady in the Gulf parish.
"We're going ahead with the three days," Fr. Tracey told the Echo by phone Tuesday.
That means a festival running Friday, Saturday and Sunday, July Fourth.
"We have our crab and our shrimp and now we're just hoping that we can draw the crowds," Tracey said.
The crab comes from Lake Pontchartrain in neighboring Louisiana, the body of water that played such a decisive role in the flooding of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. The lake, which is open to the ocean, has not yet been affected by the oil spillage.
The three day Our Lady of the Gulf festival is heavily dependent on its food sales, that being mostly crab and shrimp. Shrimp boats are still fishing in inshore waters off Bay St. Louis, Tracey said.
Down the coast a bit, towards Gulfport and Biloxi, oil has been spotted offshore and frantic defensive measures are now being put in place.
"Frankly, they should have started this quite a while ago," said Tracey on a day when his parish and the surrounding community was being lashed by bands of rain from the tropical storm out in the Gulf that, at one point, was considered a possible threat to the oil spillage emergency work.
"We are worried about numbers. There are no tourists and the beaches are mostly deserted around here right now," Tracey said with regard to his festival.
He said that he was hoping that advertising and word of mouth would lure enough people to generate the roughly $250,000 that the festival generates for the Our Lady of the Gulf church and school in a normal year.
This, however, is far from being a normal year.
"There were rumors going around that we had cancelled the festival, but we are going ahead. Now we are just hoping that people will come," he said.