Dear Editor,

What you’re not being told: On Nov. 3, Election Day, the citizens of Key West will be deciding the fate of our local economy via the cruise ship referendums. There has been an abundance of information poured into our community from Keep the Cruise Ships (KCS) and Safer Cleaner Ships (SCS).

Keep the Cruise Ships (KCS) would ask for a NO vote, as to not affect local employment for our citizens. SCS is asking for a Yes vote on all three questions, which would bring a total ban of mid-size cruise ships like Disney, Celebrity and Virgin from visiting our port, while only allowing much smaller ships, which mostly won’t come. 

There is one important issue you are not being told by SCS because it does not fit their narrative: If these referenda pass, they become part of the Key West Charter. If the City attempts to enforce the passed referenda, such enforcement would not only reduce ships from our public piers, but also the privately owned Pier B, which was required in writing by the City to spend millions constructing the pier and to maximize the disembarkation fees. Remember, last year Pier B paid $1.6 million to the City and will continue to pay tens of millions to the City, with no cost to the City. 

Now let’s follow the bouncing ball:

During a pandemic SCS members, without any collaboration, put out a petition to place the referenda on the ballot with no alternative plan in place. There were no public meetings with input from City staff on the impacts from the referenda on our City or input from the City attorney on potential liability to the City from lawsuits. What you’re not being told is the risks and costs associated with the potential lawsuits. Common sense would tell you the citizens of Key West should know the risks and costs  associated with the potential lawsuits before they vote and get stuck with the bill. 

If it passes the City will face substantial litigation. Pier B will likely file a lawsuit against the City of Key West for breach of contract, loss of revenue, etc. It is possible that the lawsuit filed by Pier B could claim damages in the neighborhood of $100 million. This will make the Duck Tours payout look like chump change. Pier B filed an initial lawsuit but the Judge in that case essentially told them they had to wait and see if the referenda pass before going forward. Pier B will have a very strong case if you vote Yes to the ban. 

It is the responsibility of the City to defend all lawsuits and pay all damages awarded, even though SCS is the group that put it on the ballot. If the City loses any of the potential lawsuits, the payout, just like Duck Tours lawsuit, would come from the City and therefore its citizens, NOT SCS. 


Who does the City of Key West ultimately represent? YOU and me. Any payouts, no matter how well-crafted and shown on the budget, will ultimately come from all of us. 

The final result of the three referenda being passed: loss of over 900 direct jobs affecting our own friends, neighbors and citizens; a loss of revenue to the City, which we now know does go into the general fund to support our social services, staff, management and more. Potential lawsuits against the City will be paid by YOU and me through possible loss of services, city jobs and increased taxes. 

All of this is avoidable, by voting No, No, No. Then we can all sit down and negotiate some more balanced common sense solutions that would protect the City, our citizens and our services, as well as the environment. The power sits with you, the voter. Let’s be part of the solution, not the problem. 

Bill Lay 
Keep the Cruise Ships in Key West

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