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Key West Harbor Pilots Sue To Have Cruise Ship Charter Amendments Thrown Off The Ballot

Nancy Klingener
Three proposed amendments to the Key West city charter would limit the size of cruise ships and the number of people who could disembark each day.

The harbor pilots who guide big ships into the Port of Key West are challenging three proposed city charter amendments that are scheduled to be on the November ballot in Key West.

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The proposed amendments would limit the number of people disembarking from cruise ships to 1,500, limit ships to those with a capacity of 1,300 people or fewer, and require the city to prioritize the ships with the best environmental and health safety records.

The suit by the Key West Bar Pilots Association was filed in U.S. District Court in Key West. It seeks to have the three proposed amendments taken off the November ballot. They were placed there after proponents gathered enough petition signatures by Key West voters to qualify.

The association is made up of the four harbor pilots who work in Key West. They sued the city, Monroe County Supervisor of Elections Joyce Griffin and the Key West Committee For Safer, Cleaner Ships, the group that organized the petition drive.

About 1 million people visited Key West by cruise ship last year.

In the lawsuit, the pilots argue that the federal and state governments have authority over the port in Key West that takes precedence over local actions. And they say the proposals are unlawful amendments to local growth management rules.

"The loss of the cruise ships ... would be a death-knell to the 200-year history of Pilots serving the Port of Key West and functionally sever Key West’s citizens from a working maritime heritage and future," the suit states.

In a press release, the Committee For Safer, Cleaner Ships countered the arguments that no cruise ships would visit the island if the charter amendments are approved.

"Whatever you think about cruise ships in Key West, everyone has the right to vote on an issue that will impact our public health, our environment and our economy," treasurer Arlo Haskell wrote in the release. "We will fight the Bar Pilots with everything we've got to make sure Key West voters are allowed to decide for themselves."