Key West Denies Rule Change for Larger Cruise Ships at Private Pier

The issues with larger cruise ships drags on in Key West as the city rejects changing rules at a private pier.

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The conflict between residents that want to ban cruise ships from entering Key West, and the owners of the privately-owned Pier B with local entrepreneurs in favor of cruise ships coming to Key West, is becoming a legal fight with no clear favorites.

Over the last months, there seemed to be an agreement in the works that would have allowed cruise ship traffic to continue under a new deal between Pier B and the city government. But, in a vote in the Key West commission, the agreement was rejected. 

What is Happening to Cruises in Key West?

The Key West issue is becoming more complicated by the day. An agreement from 1994 between Pier B and the Key West city government is the main point of concern. This agreement states that Pier B has nearly unlimited use and possibilities to allow cruise ships to visit Key West. 

Negotiations between Key West and Pier B resulted in a new agreement that would have allowed Pier B to continue, but with several restrictions.

Among those restrictions are five days a year when no cruise ships were allowed to dock at the pier, consisting of New Year’s Day, Easter Sunday, Independence Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Eve.

Cruise Ship in Key West
Photo Credit: Stuart Monk / Shutterstock

Also included were ten additional days to be decided between Pier B and the city when no cruise ships are allowed at Pier B, an average of a maximum of 349 cruise ships per year over three years, and a limit of an average of 3700 passengers to disembark every day. 

While this would have been a concession from Pier B on the old agreement, it does not come anywhere near the demands set out in the referendum held in 2020. City commissioners voted against the new deal. 

What is clear is that despite the current talks between Pier B and the city, cruise ships are still sailing to Key West as usual. Something that the organization behind the referendum, SaferCleanerShips, feels is illegal.

Is Pier B Illegal?

The newest argument to come from SaferCleanerShips, and the one that seems to have tackled the agreements between the city and Pier B owner Mark Walsh is that the Pier B structures as they stand now are not as agreed in 1994, and therefore illegal. This would make the entire agreement from 1994 a point of discussion. 

However, Mark Walsh is having none of this. Walsh said the claim from Safer Cleaner Ships’ was: “a gross misrepresentation of the facts and an unfair and misleading assertion given that the available public records contain unequivocal proof” that “in 1999, the City (a) authorized and supported the Pier B expansion; (b) granted a building permit for the Pier B expansion; (c) issued a certificate of occupancy for the Pier B expansion and (d) represented to the state of Florida that the expansion of Pier B was approved and authorized by the city….”

Cruise Ship in key West
Photo Credit: photravel_ru / Shutterstock.com

A letter issued in 1999 to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection from then-assistant city manager John Jones states: 

“City staff has reviewed the Pier B development plans and have no objections to the present plans….Pier B expansion improvement will offer a safer berth for cruise ships and better convenience for visitors.”

Are There Other Options?

Both sides of the Key West cruise ship issue do not seem to be willing to come to a compromise that would satisfy both parties.

In fact, if SaferCleanerShips has its way, Pier B’s business model would be destroyed. If Pier B continues as it is now, the entire referendum held in 2020 will have been a lost cause for SaferCleanerShips. 

Yet, there seems to be little room for legal discussions. City commissioner Mary Lou Hoover said the claims by SaferCleanerShips were based on little evidence: 

“While I understand you don’t want any cruise ships coming to Key West, it is still my belief that the city has no control over Pier B and its operations.

Food for thought. If SCS believed that the agreement between Pier B and the city was invalid or void, why go through all the trouble and expense of three referendums? Why not just have a judge set aside the agreement? And if the agreement never existed, why did the city take money from Pier B to the tune of $25 million?”

Carnival Cruise Ships in Key West
Photo Credit: blueElephant / Shutterstock

With the agreement voted out, the talks seem to be gridlocked. Mark Walsh and Pier B seemed willing to make several concessions towards SaferCleanerShips and at least a more controlled cruise ships traffic towards Key West. Whether that attitude will remain is to be seen. 

One of the options that could be next would a trial in front of a jury, to see who has the rights in their favor in regards to Key West’s Pier B and the cruise ships that visit it.

Something that could very well end badly for SaferCleanerShips and their quest to ban ships from Key West, if Pier B indeed has all the correct permissions and permits. 

Cruise Ship in Key West

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