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.