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After DeSantis Signs Bill Overturning Key West Cruise Limits, Mayor Says City Will Explore Ways To Reinstate Them

A sign on a gate in Key West reads smaller fewer cruise ships and protect key west.
Nancy Klingener
/
WLRN
More than six months after Key Westers voted to limit cruise ship visitation to the island, some are still displaying signs calling for "smaller, fewer cruise ships."

Key West's precedent-setting limits on cruise ships to the island, approved by voters last November, were overturned in a transportation bill signed this week by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Key West Mayor Teri Johnston said Wednesday she was disappointed — but not surprised.

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Johnston traveled to Tallahassee during this year's legislative session to oppose an earlier bill preempting the limits. Those new provisions in the city charter limited cruise ship visitors to 1,500 people a day and said ships visiting Key West had to have a capacity of 1,300 people, maximum. The city also had to prioritize ships with the best health and environmental safety records.

Johnston said Key West residents knew what they were doing when they approved those measures. All three passed by more than 60%.

"People just didn't wake up before the November election and said, 'Hey I don't want cruise ships here.' That wasn't the thought process at all," Johnston said. "They just wanted a say in the quality of life and our environmental protections."

The city commission is planning a special meeting at 5 p.m. Tuesday, July 6, to discuss the city's next moves. The new law only prohibits regulating cruise ships by voter initiative. The city commission is the local port authority and can make rules for the port.

Johnston said the commission will learn exactly how much say it has over the three cruise ship piers: Mallory Square, which the city owns, the Outer Mole, which the Navy leases to the city for cruise ship visits and privately-run Pier B — the busiest of the three.

"We're going to find out legally exactly what we can do, what we have the authority to do, and how we can work best to abide by the three referendums that passed by over 60 percent in the city of Key West.

Nearly one million people visited the island by cruise ship in 2019.

The Florida Harbor Pilots Association, which backed the law, said it is critical that local ballot initiatives don’t restrict commerce in ports.

“Maritime commerce has a wide-ranging impact on the lives of Floridians across the state, allowing for the free flow of goods and services to all regions — not just the locality of a given port,” said association president Ben Borgie, in a statement. “Given that statewide importance, it is paramount that maritime commerce is not restricted or regulated via local ballot initiatives.”

The commission meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m. next Tuesday at Key West City Hall, 1100 White St. It can also be viewed online at the city's website and via Zoom.

— The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.

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