The Key West Mystique

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Key West voters say “no” to study, cruise ships; time to put hard feelings aside for solutions

By Linda Grist Cunningham, editor and proprietor

Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of Key West Island News and KeyWestWatch Media LLC. She and her husband, a park ranger at Fort Zach, live in Key West with their Cat 5s.

10/09/2013

On Oct. 1, Key West thumbed its collective nose at cruise ships and turned its back on an almost $90 million annual revenue stream. By saying “no” to a feasibility and environmental impact study, voters made it clear: no study; no dredging; no widening; no cruise ships — and while you’re at it no tick-tacky passengers in T-shirts either.

At issue in the grinding, six-month long referendum campaign was whether Key West could eventually widen its channel, which lies within the Florida Keys Marine Sanctuary, to accommodate longer, modern cruise ships that are replacing the smaller, older (and less green) ones currently docking in Key West. Without a channel widening, the new ships can’t get into the harbor safely. Not today, or next year, but certainly within two decades, cruise ships won’t stop in Key West.

Now, not everyone who voted against doing a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers feasibility study on widening a mile-long segment of the main shipping channel by 150-feet did so for the same reasons. It was, as they say complicated. The 4,000-plus “no study” voters brought together a quintessentially Key West assortment of the cliched strange bedfellows.

Sincere environmentalists and the semi-unemployed. Wealthy (think rarer than the run-of-the-mill one percenter) second homeowners and political gadflies. Fans of exclusionary zoning and local small business owners. Retirees and energy company and investment executives. The “no study” vote carried every Key West neighborhood to a resounding defeat of the Chamber of Commerce-backed Support the Study political action committee.

Despite outspending its opposition significantly, the Support the Study PAC was unable to convince voters that doing the study did not automatically mean widening the channel. That was, however, the opposition’s message, often couched in hyperventilated advertising that included references to Italy, greedy business owners, dead sea turtles, fat, lazy tourists and the particularly offensive self-made video comparing those supporting the study to Nazis and Hitler.

I supported the study because I think the study would have, for $750,000, given Key West the information it needs to determine its environmental, economic and quality of life future. I think Key West will come to regret the decision to forgo the detailed, comprehensive research on which to craft its future. And, just to make it clear: My company did paid media consulting work for the support the study PAC.

But… Key West voters said no.

Hard feelings on both sides are apparent 10 days after the vote. But, unless the no voters can stop chortling “nah-nah-nah-nah” and the yes voters can stop eying them as careless, clueless pitchfork people, Key West is in for a long, slow economic decline.

 

1 Comment

  1. Elliot

    Wow… you are extremely bitter.

    The vote was 4,531 (against) to 1,630 (for) the study. The resounding 74% carried all ten voting precincts in Key West, where the return ranged from a minimum of 2 – 1 in a couple of New Town precincts, to a whopping 4 – 1 in the most heavily impacted Old Town precincts.

    You, as a backer of the measure who personally received $8,000 to devise its particularly disingenuous slogan, cling to understandably bitter grapes, but that does not give you the right to speak dismissively of the overwhelming majority’s reasons for denying the measure. As one who moved to town only a year ago, you should not presume to know the issues better than the people who have spent their entire lives on the island.

    Yes, the opposition that garnered a three-to-one majority was outspent by five special-interest groups who pumped more money into this campaign than any previous campaign in the island’s history. Not counting the “Free Lunch” scam at the Westin, the Pro-Study group spent almost $100 cash in advertising for every vote received, compared to under $20 in advertising for every No vote..

    Voters DID NOT turn their back on an industry which will always continue to play a role in Key West’s tourism. The vote reflected that citizens were unwilling to even consider the “significant negative effect on environmental qualityā€¯ that the Army Corps Reconnaissance Report stated would occur. They did not even want to consider larger cruise ships than the 1000-foot-behemoths that presently visit with over 5000 passengers and crew.

    As a newcomer, you found yourself on the wrong side of an issue against an overwhelming majority of long-term and multi-generational residents. You state “It’s time to put hard feelings aside” – but I’m accepting the results far better than you seem to be.

    Instead of “It’s just a study,” you should have written, “It’s just a required step in the approval process.” That’s what it always was and any amount of spinning that you want to engage in – before or after the vote – will never change the outcome.

    You accepted money to promote your misinformed opinion. Don’t even pretend that you speak to this issue with any moral authority. If you don’t like where you moved… there’s always Rockford.

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Linda Grist Cunningham

Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of Key West Island News and KeyWestWatch Media LLC. She and her husband, a park ranger at Fort Zach, live in Key West with their Cat 5s.

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