As Republicans weigh a measure overturning new rules regulating cruise ships in Key West, the organization that supported those regulations is pushing back.
The organization backed three referendums on the ballot last November in Key West adding limitations to the cruise industry in the region. But Republicans are considering legislation to preempt the issue to the state (SB 426). That would in effect overturn those local rules in Key West, as well as other regulations in other port cities.
The new digital ad, which runs just shy of 50 seconds, shows two side-by-side images along with text. One image shows clear ocean water, while the other displays cloudy water due to a silt plume caused by a cruise ship contacting coral, according to the ad.
“Which is really better for our economy?” the text asks.
“Key West voted for this!” the ad states, over the image of the clear water. “Tallahassee says we need this!” it adds, over the image of the cloudier ocean.
“Key West knows what’s best for Key West,” the ad concludes, alongside a message urging individuals to contact Gov. Ron DeSantis and oppose the preemption measure.
One referendum approved in November blocks large ships from docking in Key West entirely. Another referendum limits the number of cruise passengers that can embark in Key West per day. A third referendum allows cruise ships with better health and environmental records to gain priority in terms of docking.
Arlo Haskell, who served as treasurer for the Key West Committee for Safer, Cleaner Ships, testified last month in front of a Senate panel about the new regulations. He said he and other locals noticed water clarity had improved over the past year, as the cruise ship industry has been largely grounded due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But John Wells, chair of Caribe Nautical Services, argued at that hearing that cruise ship traffic was not harming the ecosystem.
“Emotional, anecdotal, non-evidence was used to stir up the voters,” Wells said of the campaign from Haskell’s group. “I mean, who doesn’t want to vote for manatees and seahorses? Everybody does. But I can tell you that cruise ships are not the source of any decline in environmental water quality around Key West.”
Republicans are introducing their preemption measure due to concerns the regulations could kill the cruise ship economy in the region. But Haskell says the large ship limits will simply shift the type of vessels seeking to dock in the region.
“What we’ve seen just in a few months since passing these regulations is that new business is being created in the city of Key West from these small ships that now want to come to Key West,” he said.
GOP Sen. Jim Boyd is backing the Senate version of the bill, which has advanced through the Transportation Committee. Next up are stops in the Community Affairs Committee and the Rules Committee.
Republican Reps. Spencer Roach and Tyler Sirois are behind a similar House version (HB 267). That version has also sailed through one of three committees.