Environmental groups appeal to Ron DeSantis to keep Key West cruise regulations in place

The GOP-controlled Legislature is weighing a bill to reverse those regulations and preempt local control.

Two dozen environmental groups are authoring a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis asking him to halt Republicans’ push to preempt local governments from regulating major aspects of the cruise ship industry.

That legislation, backed by Republicans, was filed in response to three referendums approved by Key West voters last November. One bans large cruise ships from docking in Key West. Another measure limits the number of cruise passengers that can embark in Key West per day. A third allows cruise ships with better health and environmental records to gain priority in terms of docking.

Republican lawmakers are now pushing to undo those changes and prevent local governments from taking similar action in the future. That’s cause for concern, according to the letter from environmental groups.

“Key West is the only cruise port in the world with a relatively shallow and narrow main channel in such close proximity to coral reef ecosystem habitats,” the letter to DeSantis reads.

“The ship channel runs directly through the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and in the immediate vicinity of some of the most sensitive ecological preserves in the hemisphere, including the Key West National Wildlife Refuge; Sanctuary Preservation Areas including Sand Key, Rock Key, and Western Sambo; and Western Dry Rocks, which was granted new protections by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission just this year.”

The coalition then appealed to the Governor’s efforts to preserve the environment during his first two years in office.

“On Jan. 30, you unveiled Florida’s Coral Reef, a new awareness campaign and website created by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and twenty-five partner organizations, including NOAA, Florida State Parks, the Coral Restoration Foundation, and others,” the letter continues.

“The coalition correctly notes that Florida’s coral reefs are a ‘delicately balanced and interconnected community’ and that ‘without continued bold and aggressive action, we may lose critical functions and benefits of the reefs.’ In addition to storm protection, recreation, and wildlife habitat, one of those many benefits is undoubtedly economic. Coral reefs in southeast Florida have an asset value of $8.5 billion, generating $4.4 billion in local sales, $2 billion in local income, and 70,400 full and part-time jobs.”

The groups signing onto Monday’s letter include 1000 Friends of Florida, American Planning Association’s Florida chapter, Defenders of Wildlife, Florida Conservation Voters, Florida Keys Environmental Coalition, Florida Keys Fishing Guides Association, Florida Wildlife Federation, Friends of the Earth, Friends of the Everglades, Greenpeace USA, Healthy Gulf, Island of Key Largo Federation of Homeowner Associations, Key West Committee for Safer, Cleaner Ships, Last Stand of the Florida Keys, Lower Keys Guides Association, Ocean Conservancy, Reef Relief, Sea Turtle Conservancy, Sierra Club Florida, Stand.earth, Sugarloaf Shores Property Owners Association, Suncoast Waterkeeper, Surfrider Foundation and Waterkeepers Florida.

Sen. Jim Boyd is backing the GOP’s bill in the Senate (SB 426). On the House side, Reps. Spencer Roach and Tyler Sirois are handling a companion measure (HB 267). Each version has cleared one committee in its respective chamber.

John E. Wells of Key West, who serves as chairman of Caribe Nautical Services, has been a critic of the Key West referendums and is supporting the Legislature’s push.

“It is crucial that maritime commerce is not restricted or regulated by any one municipal government,” Wells said.

“Florida seaports have a wide-ranging impact on the lives of Floridians across the state and are critically important to the state’s economy, playing a major role in trade and commerce throughout the state. This legislation will ensure maritime commerce is not subject to the shifting political winds of a given municipality, protecting jobs, tourism and the economy.”

In Monday’s letter, the 24 environmental groups ask the Governor to oppose the bill, either by putting pressure on GOP lawmakers to pull the measure or by vetoing it once it passes.

“Florida’s unique and irreplaceable environment is the driver for the state’s tourism economy and the reason why so many choose to make this great state home,” the letter says in closing.

“Our local governments have the opportunity to help protect these ecological treasures, if we let them lead. We respectfully request that you oppose any efforts to preempt local control of ports, and stand for home rule and the protection of Florida’s imperiled coral reefs.”

Ryan Nicol

Ryan Nicol covers news out of South Florida for Florida Politics. Ryan is a native Floridian who attended undergrad at Nova Southeastern University before moving on to law school at Florida State. After graduating with a law degree he moved into the news industry, working in TV News as a writer and producer, along with some freelance writing work. If you'd like to contact him, send an email to [email protected].


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