LETTER TO EDITOR: CRUISE SHIP OPPONENTS MISLED KEY WEST VOTERS

Last week, Arlo Haskell, treasurer of Safer Cleaner Ships, wrote a letter about the state legislative bills that would void Key West’s vote for “Safer, Cleaner Ships.”  That referendum was promoted by his team and financed by his political action committee in defiance of state and federal commerce law in our port of Key West. 

The reason for the state’s reaction is that Key West’s rogue vote threatened state commerce in Florida ports. 

Mr. Haskell, as he did during the referendum, has used sleight of hand, misdirection and outright lies in his opposition to House Bill 267 and Senate Bill 426.

He stated, “The State of Florida would seize regulatory authority and overall commercial activity in our port.” The federal government already does that. Then he said Ed Swift and Mark Walsh financed the opposition and that Ed Swift, John Wells and the Bar Pilots Association orchestrated these bills. I can’t speak for the Walsh family, who own Pier B, or the Bar Pilots, but Ed Swift and his company have sent one letter to the Senate sponsor and one letter to the House sponsor. That is the extent of my “orchestration.” As far as financing, I again can’t speak for the Walshes or the Bar Pilots, but I haven’t spent a dime on these bills. 

Mr. Haskell then states that in last year’s election, 60 to 80% of voters voted for approval of the new cruise ship guidelines. Smaller, safer ships misled many folks to think we would still have a cruise industry when the referendum was  passed. 

Dissecting that vote, 80% of people voted for giving ships that were environmentally superior the first right to dock here. I am for that, as is the Key West Chamber of Commerce. Putting the environment first is fine. However, the vote was actually 60% for the new size limits and 40% against the new size limits. But it was never made clear that the new size regulations eliminated 94% of all cruise visits to the island.

 That’s right, of 280 scheduled and confirmed visits to the island booked for 2022, only 18 are allowed by our new law. By the way, the cost to our city government would be millions of dollars in revenues and taxes. The cost to the local economy is the ability for the city and county to fully tax properties on lower Duval and Front streets, as they are reduced in value. 

Mr. Haskell then says the state bills to invalidate the vote go even further. He says the city “may” be prohibited from adjacent zoning. This is a bald-faced lie. 

He says the bills will “eliminate senior city jobs” and “threaten affordable housing for the Truman Waterfront.” More lies. 

Then he says the geographic area of Key West’s seaport is not defined. 

Our harbor is historically interpreted as the deep water that is bordered by the island itself. Our harbor has been used by the Navy and commercial vessels throughout our history. These two bills in the state House and Senate speak to preserving our right to continue to use them to the city’s and the private owner’s full advantage. I do not have the space to further discuss the harbor, however Mr. Haskell goes even further and states that somehow the bills would include “potentially inland” rights for several blocks. What?  Really? This isn’t true. The state is not threatening land-use regulation in any way. Mr. Haskell asks, “What will happen when the state seizes the city’s authority?” Nothing will happen because the bills don’t seize or prohibit city zoning or land use. Mr. Haskell is not only paranoid, but is using the same scare tactics and misdirection he used to gather petitions and pass his damaging economic changes in our city. In fact, our city commission never held any meetings on these issues. 

He also says, ”Swift and Walsh control valuable waterfront through Historic Tours of America and various hotel properties.” This is a lie, again.

The only waterfront Historic Tours or myself control is directly behind the Key West Aquarium, which we lease from the city for our turtles and sharks. I do not own a hotel property and am, unfortunately, not a partner, investor or associate of the Walsh company. 

Finally, the vote on the original referendum was 7,852 for and 5,087 against. Those who work in the cruise industry and many other moderate-income wage earners don’t live in Key West. They can’t afford the prices of homes and rents in Key West, so they live across the Cow Key Bridge on Stock Island, Big Coppitt, Bay Point, etc., all the way to Big Pine Key, and they were disenfranchised from voting on this issue that will certainly greatly affect their ability to work and earn. Had they been allowed to vote, I’m certain the margin of Mr. Haskell’s victory would have been less or nonexistent. These voters are 14,304 strong and many of them depend on Key West for their livelihood. 

— Edwin O. Swift III

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