Will cruise ships return to Key West? Can the city change its charter to limit large ships?
The answers lie with Gov. Ron DeSantis, who will decide in the coming weeks whether to approve or veto a statewide transportation bill that would prohibit all ports, including Key West, from restricting maritime commerce in any way.
The transportation bill, known as Senate Bill 1194, passed the state legislature last week in a late-night vote. DeSantis has 30 days from that passage to either sign the bill into law or veto it.
A veto would leave open the door for Key West to regulate the ships that visit its port. That veto seems unlikely due to the statewide impacts of SB 1194, but members of the Key West Committee for Safer, Cleaner Ships, which led the charge to ban big ships, are still encouraging its supporters to contact the governor and urge him to veto the bill.
“The transportation bill would force the world’s largest cruise ships into one of the most sensitive ecosystems on the planet, overturn the results of a free and fair election in Key West, and reward the brazen efforts of billionaire cruise-pier operator Mark Walsh, who gave $1 million to DeSantis’ political action committee during the recent legislative session,” Arlo Haskell, treasurer of Safer Cleaner Ships, wrote to supporters on Wednesday, May 5. “We are asking you one last time, to write or call the governor and urge him to veto SB 1194. … As a candidate, DeSantis promised to protect our environment. He has stood up to special interests before when he fought Big Sugar to fund important Everglades restoration projects. He now faces a critical test as he decides whether or not he will protect the world’s third-largest coral barrier reef from the well-established negative impacts of large cruise ships.”
Key West city commissioners also raised the cruise ship question during their meeting on May 4.
City Attorney Shawn Smith told the commissioners it would be premature to discuss the situation until the governor either approves or vetoes the bill.
“I know it’s premature tonight, but I think at some point, we need to discuss cruise ships,” Commissioner Sam Kaufman said. “Perhaps we need a workshop to address what we’ll do with Mallory Square, about our lease with the Navy at Outer Mole PIer and to give our city management and legal team some direction on these matters.”
Mayor Teri Johnston, who supports the Safer Cleaner Ships Committee, told Kaufman, “I think we’re just waiting on that 30-day period for the governor to either sign or veto.”