Some Cruise Companies Seeking To Overturn Decision By Key West Voters To Limit Size Of Ships Docking At Their Port

CBS4’s Jim DeFede reports lawmakers in Tallahassee are on the verge of approving a measure that will cancel the results of that election.

Video Transcript

- And as cruise companies demand to go back to business, some of them are seeking to overturn a decision made by voters in Key West to limit the size of cruise ships docking at their ports.

ELLIOTT RODRIGUEZ: And now lawmakers in Tallahassee are on the verge of approving a measure that will cancel the results of that election. CBS 4's Jim DeFede joins us with more on that story. Jim, good evening.

JIM DEFEDE: Good evening, Eliott. So in November, voters in Key West approved three measures. The three measures included one to limit the size of cruise ships. They didn't want those massive, large cruise ships docking at the port. Second, they limited the number of passengers who could get off the ships every day to no more than 1,500. And they passed a measure approving basically priority docking for cruise ships that do really well, that have strong environmental and health safety records. Those measures passed by 60% to 80% of the vote in each of the cases.

Now, the cruise industry was vehemently opposed to it, and as the Miami Herald was the first to report, pumped hundreds of thousands of in a dark-money campaign to try to scare voters in Key West by saying that if they voted for this measure that police services would be cut, fire services would be cut. And literally, they promised that people would die if the measures passed.

Well, the measures passed anyway, but the cruise industry and others did not give up. So they took the fight to Tallahassee. And they're employing all of their power and influence to try to get the legislature to essentially pass a bill that applies only to one port in the entire state of Florida, and that port is Key West, where they would cancel the results of the election. I spoke recently to two men who were fighting on behalf of those amendments that were passed in Key West, and here's a little bit of that conversation.

ARLO HASKEL: Yeah, it's a fight we're in here, Jim. You know, it's a David and Goliath story. You've got little people down here in Key West trying to protect our fishermen, trying to protect our fish, trying to protect what we have that makes this place great, that people want to come and visit it all the time.

And we're calling on the governor to help us. To stand up for the little people. To stand up for the Floridians whose livelihoods are threatened by big corporate profits from foreign-owned cruise companies. We're asking for the governor to help us here.

CAPT. WILL BENSON: And to stand up for home rule. I mean, that's what I think of when I think of, you know, Republican politics, is that when the voters speak, you know, at the most basic levels, that should matter. And there's this ugly trend in politics, and in Florida politics, to preempt voters at the local level and say oh well we need to come in, you know, and tell you what you need to do. We need to help you here because your vote, you know, is getting it wrong.

I just, I fundamentally disagree with that. This is stealing the vote from locals. In Florida, it's happening to us right now in Key West, and if you don't think it's going to happen in your community when there's an issue that you care about, you know, pay attention. Because this is what happens. Big corporations rule the day in Florida. And it's not about the environment, it's not about your business that depends on the environment, if it runs into large corporate interests.

- So Jim, where does the bill stand right now?

JIM DEFEDE: So, it has passed through various committees in both the state house and state senate, but has not been finally voted in either chamber. Now, it didn't have any hearings this week, which is a good sign for those who oppose the measure. But there are still three weeks left in the session. And the general feeling is that it will eventually make its way past the house and the senate and end up on the governor's desk.

Now recently, I spoke to state senator Anna Maria Rodriguez, the newly elected state senator that includes the Florida Keys, and I asked what she was doing. She opposes the bill, but some have questioned whether or not she's fighting it strong enough. Here's part of that conversation. I had recently with her.

ANA MARIA RODRIGUEZ: I don't think that this bill was necessarily driven by the cruise ship industry. From what I understand, there were other factors involved in driving this legislation. From what I understand, the harbor pilots had a big say in moving this bill forward. There are other entities. And from what I understand, the Key West Chamber of Commerce supports this bill, because they say that it's taken a very detrimental effect on their business community in Downtown Key West.

JIM DEFEDE: But those arguments were made during the election itself. And yet 70% of the voters voted to support it. Again, if you tell me that the Tug Pilots Association or the Key West Chamber of commerce is driving this, I've got to say, I'm skeptical. I got to imagine that it's the cruise lines that are driving this bill and being the real force pushing it.

ANA MARIA RODRIGUEZ: Well I think there are, as you said, you know, I think the cruise ship industry definitely has a seat at the table. But I think there are numerous entities and industries that stand a lot to lose from not having the constant flow of passengers and people visiting Key West. So I think it's a number of factors. I don't necessarily think the cruise ship industry is the only player in this equation.

ELLIOTT RODRIGUEZ: Jim, we don't have too much time, but I want to ask you about the environmental factor here with the port being closed for almost a year. Do we know if it's made any difference in the water quality around Key West?

JIM DEFEDE: It really has. There was recently a study that was released, because those big cruise ships that come and churn up a lot of the sea bottom and play havoc on the reef, because that traffic has not been going into Key West. There was a recent study that was done that showed the environmental positive impacts of that.

Now, nobody is suggesting to do away with cruise ship industry in Key West. It's just a matter of managing it so that you can have a system that works for everyone. Works for the fishermen, works for the environmentalists in the community, works for the business owners. But right now, as I said, the cruise ship industry and other powerful interests are fighting this tooth and nail, and trying to overturn the will of the people in Key West.

ELLIOTT RODRIGUEZ: Yeah, a lot of big interests in this, Jim. We'll keep following. Thank you very much.