The City of Key West soundly defeated the referendum to fund a study to widen Cut B of the Key West main shipping channel. In KeysKeeper’s opinion this would have led directly to dredging. The vote was an overwhelming 3 to 1 against the study within a total turnout of 41% of the registered voters of Key West.
It is clear that the people of Key West would like to keep the iconic quality of the city, and not hand it over to monies interests whose only concern is to make an extra dollar. In many ways, he people of Key West have set a precedent globally that shows other cities can protect themselves from the growing cruise ship industry that invades and threatens small charming cities like Key West.
Many of the people that support KeysKeeper supported the Key West Committee for Responsible Tourism that led the campaign against the study. The directors of KeysKeeper were actively involved in the campaign as individuals as well as actively involved in financial support. Several of the people from Last Stand, a local activist group, were also involved heavily in the campaign.
In response to the overwhelming response of the 4,531 Key West residents who voted against the referendum, the City Commissioner in turn voted to notify the United States Army Corps of Engineers that it does not want the U.S.A.C.E to undertake or commission future studies to consider the concept of widening the Key West Main Ship Channel, regardless of potential funding sources. It also voted to consider further legislation to codify the intent and opposition to prohibited activities within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary such that any activities that the City Commission may consider in the future that would have an impact on the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary are in line with the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary rules and regulations.
For the past 2 years, KeysKeeper has been involved in the dialogue concerning the widening of the main shipping channel in Key West. This project, if implemented, would add an additional 150 feet of width by dredging a length of the channel for more than a mile. KeysKeeper has written letters to the Key West Citizen, and to the Key West City Commissioners in opposition to widening the channel by dredging. KeysKeeper had also attended Key West city commission meetings, and spoke in opposition of dredging. This effort resulted in the city commissioners voting to table further discussion of dredging.
The Chamber of Commerce responded to that action by proposing a feasibility study of widening the channel by the Army Corp of Engineers. The City Commission voted to put that to a public referendum to be voted on in the October 2013 election. Therefore, it is now a political issue; Keyskeeper is excluded from the direct participation in elections.
There are two different political action committees involved in the vote on this referendum. The Key West Committee for Responsible Tourism opposes the widening of the channel and advocates a NO vote on the referendum. The Chamber of Commerce of Key West supports widening the channel, and proposes a YES vote. Below are short videos of speakers representing both parties.
Responsible Tourism Key West
Support the Study
Dredging is the aquatic excavation of sediment from the sea floor to create or deepen water ways. It entails the removal of corals, sea fans, sponges, and other sessile marine life. This removal of organisms destroys the natural balance of the ecosystem. Dredging stirs up the sea floor creating excess amounts of suspended particulate in the water column; it offsets wave patterns, and introduces wildlife to harmful toxins that were once buried within the sea floor.
The act of dredging alone has its effects, but once the dredging is complete, the channel will then be able to accommodate larger “mega cruise ships.” As a cruise ship passes through a channel, silt-plume is formed. Silt-plume is formed when prop wash from ships blow sediment from the sea-floor into the water column. According to the study “ Cruise ships and Sustainability in Bermuda”, when cruise ships made headway through a channel, there was an increase of suspended material in the water column showing larger particulate closer to the channel, and smaller particles several hundred meters away. An increase of sediment in the water column inhibits photosynthesis by blocking sunlight, and coral reefs rely on sunlight to obtain energy. Suspended particles also prevent coral attachment and settlement.
Coral reefs in the Florida Keys are both vulnerable and valuable. Their decline is a matter of record. Their value has been estimated in the billions by numbers of organizations. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, coral reefs have an asset value to South Florida of $8.5 billion. NOAA calculates that value as consisting of $4.4 billion in local sales and $2 billion in local income. That study estimates that 70,400 full and part-time jobs are attributable to the reef.
A Reef Experiencing an Increase of Suspended Material
Altering a natural ecosystem also alters the behaviors of many other marine organisms that use the ecosystem as habitat, feeding, and breeding grounds. High turbidity of sedimentation can irritate or clog the gills of fish, and hinder their vision while feeding. In 2005, the channel was dredged, and sea fans, corals, and sponges were removed; Tarpon populations showed a decline. The flats fishing industry in the Florida Keys has a total economic impact of over $741 million according to a study done by the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust . The cruise ship industry brings in $26,120,187 according to a 2005 study “The Impacts of the Cruise Ship Industry on the Quality of Life in Key West” by Thomas J. Murray and Associates.
The map below made by the Lower Keys Guides Association points out that Tarpon use the areas in and around the ship channel extensively. Further degradation of this environment threatens Tarpon and the industry that it supports.
The Florida Keys is a National Marine Sanctuary which includes 2900 square nautical miles starting south of Miami, and ending in the Dry Tortugas. The minute you step foot into the Florida Keys, you are entering a marine sanctuary. National Marine Sanctuaries are established to manage and protect unique ecosystems from damages or further destruction.
All regulations of National Marine Sanctuaries apply nation-wide. Regulation 922.163(3) states the following:
Alteration of, or construction on, the seabed. Drilling into, dredging, or otherwise altering the seabed of the Sanctuary, or engaging in prop-dredging; or constructing, placing or abandoning any structure, material, or other matter on the seabed of the Sanctuary.