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Key West City Cruise Ship Port Widening Question (November 2013)

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A Key West City Cruise Ship Port Widening question was not on the November 5, 2013 election ballot in Monroe County, which is in Florida.

If approved, this measure would have authorized a $3 million dollar project to widen the Key West port shipping channel in order to accommodate large Panamax-size cruise ships. Currently about 350 cruise ships come in and out of Key West port on Caribbean itineraries each year, and this traffic injects about $70 million into local businesses. Widening the channel and allowing more and larger cruise ships access to the Key West port would reportedly increase cruise ship tourism by several thousand people a year. The shipping channel would need to be widened from its current 300 feet to 450 feet over a 1.5 mile stretch to accommodate the new cruise ships. This stretch is in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and is a federally protected area. This measure was not put on the ballot because the referendum authorizing the feasibility study was rejected by voters.[1][2]

A relevant binding referendum on whether or not to conduct a study regarding feasibility of widening the main Key West ship channel ballot question was on the October 1, 2013 ballot where it was overwhelmingly defeated. This measure simply asked voters to authorize a study to be done by the Army Corps of Engineers, at no cost to the taxpayers, to discover the economic and social impacts of widening the Key West Main Ship Channel. It is unclear whether a measure to widen the port will go forward or not.[3]

Election results

Feasibility study measure

Feasibility study measure
Defeatedd No4,53173.54%
Yes 1,630 26.46%
These results are from the Key West City elections office.

Text of measure

Feasibility study

The question on the ballot:

This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.

“Referendum - Binding referendum to conduct study regarding feasibility of widening the main Key West ship channel.”

Shall the City of Key West request that the Army Corps of Engineers conduct a comprehensive feasibility study, at no monetary cost to the City, to determine the environmental, economic and social impacts of widening the Key West Main Ship Channel for use by modern and longer cruise ships while also addressing navigational safety?[3]

Channel widening measure

The text of this measure was unavailable. It will be posted when and if it becomes available on the Monroe County Elections Website. Meanwhile, if you have any further information regarding this measure, please email


Study measure

Those who were seeking to approve the port widening project sought the study because they believed it would reveal that the widening of the cruise ship port in Key West would not have significant, long term harmful effects on the environment or economy and that the study would help garner a yes vote on the widening project itself.[4]

Widening measure

Supporters of widening of the cruise ship port look at the amazing opportunity for economic benefits as outweighing the reportedly possible harmful environmental side-effects. Currently about 350 cruise ships come in and out of Key West port on Caribbean itineraries each year, and this traffic injects about $70 million into local businesses. The potential for thousands more passengers every year coming to Key West and leaving behind a lot of their money is a perk that some businesses cannot ignore. Some are even concerned that as cruise ship designs become larger and larger, the Key West channel may not be large enough to allow most ships to enter the port, which would cause the cruise ship industry in Key West to dwindle. Mike Ronan, Royal Caribbean’s vice president of government affairs in the Caribbean, sent an email to the Key West Director of Port Operations, Jim Fitton, in which he wrote, “With the opening [in 2014] of the newer, larger locks in the Panama Canal, our ship designs for the foreseeable future will be of a size that will not be able to call Key West if the channel is not modified.” Supporters of the measure argue that this issue is an economic one, not an environmental one, and that the hundreds of local jobs provided by the cruise ship industry take precedence.[2]


Study measure

Those who oppose the widening in general also fought against the performance of the environmental impact study, which would likely be used to support the project and garner a positive response from the voters.[5]

Widening measure

Some local businesses and residents are afraid that the new influx of cruise ship tourism will destroy culture and quality of life in the city of Key West. These opponents to the November measure are joined by many who have strong environmental concerns.[1] Many are concerned about the negative impact the modification and dredging of the channel would have on the unknown amount of important marine ecology found there. Millard McCleary, an opponent to increasing the cruise ship business in Key West, argued that the widening of the channel may even have an adverse effect on tourism, saying, "Over the past 10 years or so, we've lost 90 percent of our coral reefs [....] The ocean is the reason people come down here on vacation, and that's where we get our economy from, from tourism dollars, (like) fishing and scuba diving. If we jeopardize our marine environment for other reasons, then we are kind of missing the point."[2]

See also

External links