Confusing weeks for the inhabitants of South Florida’s Key West. A referendum that would see cruise ships of certain sizes, and at specific times banned from the island seemed to stand firm for many months is now seemingly dead in the water.
When the legislation went through the state Senate the referendum seemed to be voted out, then the House decided to keep it in, and now to top it off: It’s out again.
To make things a little clearer, state legislators voted this week that ‘any local ballot initiative or referendum may not restrict maritime commerce’ in a back and forth that will have many confused on what is happening.
Not A Victory The Cruise Lines Will Want
Although the House’s legislation that will now be sent to the governor will be a welcome victory for the cruise lines, how it was achieved does not deserve a prize.
One day after Key West citizens believed they had lost the battle to keep their vote to limit cruise ship traffic, Republican lawmakers quickly reversed course and advanced the legislation past Democrats for immediate transmission to the governor.
Republican Senator Jim Boyd, who sponsored the original bill that failed to make it through the House earlier in the week, attached an amendment to an unrelated Senate transportation bill.
This bill declares “local ballot initiatives may not impede maritime commerce” at any of Florida’s 15 deep-water ports. The bill will retroactively ban three Key West referendums approved by 60% of voters in November.
This means that cruise ships will be able to keep sailing to and docking in Key West unrestricted. The dark side of the matter is that the business developer who operates the Key West pier, Mark Walsh, which gets most of the city’s cruise ship traffic, has donated nearly $1 million to the political committee of Gov. Ron DeSantis in recent weeks.
With a court case filed last year, Walsh challenged the legitimacy of the referendum. Walsh’s company keeps about three-fourths of each $10 fee paid by cruise ships into port, while the city gets the rest — estimated at more than $4 million in profits each year.
Key West Residents Seem United In Their Goals
While many business owners in Key West do count on a significant amount of income from the cruise industry, Republican representative Jim Mooney was one of the opponents of the bill:
“I will tell you in undeniable terms that the city of Key West, the city of Marathon, the city of Key Colony Beach, the city of Islamorada, Monroe County, the National Marine Sanctuary, and all the other scientific communities within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary boundaries are opposed to this bill,”
“Water quality is our lifeline there, and when the cruise ships arrive they stir up the water, hurting fishing and damaging the reefs. When the National Marine Sanctuary says that it’s hurting our reefs, you really have to listen to that.”
One Key West resident was also clear in his opinion, Arlo Haskell:
“This is a thinly veiled attempt to overturn three voter referendums in Key West with legislation to help one mega donor who just contributed $1 million before session, It’s a shame that the future of the world’s third largest barrier reef is at risk to help one man with a vendetta get richer.”
Many ports and cities have been reviewing the welcome cruise ships have traditionally gotten around the world. To protect areas of historical and natural significance, places like Cannes in France, Venice, Italy, and Santorini, Greece, have banned or minimized cruise ships from entering the area.
Worth Reading: Fun Things to Do in Key West, Florida for Cruise Visitors
Although there is no cruise ship travel right now, the cruise lines will need to review their objectives. While Key West has always been a traditional and popular cruise port, bringing in millions, if not billions over the years, it could very well be that the welcome has worn out.
Despite the legislation passed, the question is if it is worth it for the cruise lines to fight this battle, especially with hundreds of ports in the immediate area that still welcome cruise ships with open arms.