The governor’s signature on Wednesday officially sank Key West’s attempt to ban most cruise ships from visiting here.
Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law Senate Bill 1194, a statewide transportation bill that specifically voids any local referendum or initiative that restricts maritime commerce. The attempt by 62% of Key West voters to keep large cruise ships away and limit the number of people who can come each by ship represents such a restriction.
The Florida Harbor Pilots Association, whose members’ livelihood depends on the cruise ship industry, applauded DeSantis for signing, rather than vetoing, the bill.
“This critical legislation ensures that local ballot initiatives cannot restrict any type of maritime commerce in Florida seaports, including cruise and cargo activities,” said Capt. Ben Borgie, president of the Florida Harbor Pilots Association. “Maritime commerce is a major economic driver in our state. The commerce that flows into and out of Florida seaports is responsible for creating 900,000 jobs, plays a major role in international trade, innovation, and technology, and supports and is a critical component of Florida’s booming tourism industry.
“Moreover, maritime commerce has a wide-ranging impact on the lives of Floridians across the state, allowing for the free flow of goods and services to all regions — not just the locality of a given port. Given that statewide importance, it is paramount that maritime commerce is not restricted or regulated via local ballot initiatives.
“As guardians of the public’s interest, Florida’s harbor pilots work hard every day to ensure the safe and efficient movement of vessels in state waters and to protect Florida’s marine environment. As such, we are grateful to Gov. DeSantis and to the lawmakers who worked so hard to pass SB 1194 and include provisions to safeguard maritime commerce and help continue growing this vital piece of Florida’s economic success story.”
On the other side of the issue, leaders of the Safer Cleaner Ships Committee, which spearheaded the opposition to large cruise ships and the voter referendums, had hoped for more than a month that DeSantis would veto Senate Bill 1194. The committee’s founders met with the governor’s staff, lobbied his office and called on DeSantis to make environmental protection one of his legacies.
“We urge Gov. Ron DeSantis to continue his strong leadership on the environment,” Arlo Haskell, treasurer and co-founder of the Safer Cleaner Ships Committee, posted recently on the group’s Facebook page. “His veto would send an unmistakable signal that he stands with the fishermen of this state, not with special interests who threaten our fishery.”
But that veto didn’t happen. Now come the questions.
When will cruise ships come back to Key West? Which and how many ships will come? How does Key West reunite and move forward together after one of the most divisive debates in recent island history?
All this and more will be discussed at a special city commission meeting at 5 p.m. Tuesday, July 6. There’s only one item on the agenda for discussion: Cruise Ships.
“All city commissioners and the mayor have consistently voiced their support to implement the charter amendments to the extent permissible by law,” Commissioner Sam Kaufman told Keys Weekly on Wednesday. “I expect the city attorney to advise the commission on how to accomplish this. The public can also expect a formal announcement that Mallory Square will not be available for cruise ships that don’t meet the smaller requirements per the city charter. Also, the Commission will likely direct the city manager to negotiate with the Navy to either comply with the charter amendments or allow the City to withdraw from the lease at the Outer Mole pier.”
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