City of Key West Evaluating Options to Restore Cruise Ship Restrictions Following Florida’s Preemption

On Monday, July 12, 2021, the City of Key West held a special city commission workshop meeting with residents and local business owners to discuss an issue they voted on last November, cruise ship limits. The State of Florida preempted the local vote in April with the passing of a larger transportation bill that included a last minute amendment to nullify the Key West cruise ship referendums after a standalone bill failed to reach a vote. The transportation bill with an effective date of July 1, 2021 was singed into law by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis on June 29th. As it stands, the referendums passed by Key West voters last November are no longer binding based on the wording in the CS/CS/CS/SB 1194: Transportation bill.

FL SB 1194 Transportation Ch 2021 188 Final Law 311 25

During the meeting, which was originally scheduled for July 5th before it was rescheduled due to the Tropical Storm/Hurricane Elsa which was tracking through the area, the Key West Commission provided a public comment period for citizens and local business owners alike. Following the public comment periods which was overwhelming in favor for a continued push to limit cruise ships, the commission affirmed their stance to support the referendums and asked to the City’s lawyer to explore the best way to move forward.

The meeting streamed live at 5:00PM on July 12th and is available as an archive here.

The new law does not prohibit the Key West City Commission from passing a resolution or enacting an ordinance that has the exact same effect as the referendums, but there is an issue regarding Pier B. Key West has an easier path when it comes to restricting cruise ships at Mallory Square (Key West Owned), and the Navy’s Outer Mole Pier (Leased to Key West by the Navy), but Pier B (Margaritaville Key West Resort) is privately-owned pier with the seabed leased thought the state. There is an agreement with the city that has been in place for about 30-years which self renews every 10-years. The contract requires both parties disavow the agreement with the current city attorney suggesting the only way out is to PAY (1:22:00 in the video) the other side in a buyout.

One thing is clear, Key West is not going to sit idly by and allow cruise ship tourism to return as normal without a fight. However, the reality is this is not going to be a quick turnaround. Even with the potential new city ordinances, the state could simply preempt those in the next legislative session in a cat and mouse game. As for the cruise ships small enough to call on Key West under the referendums, the City Manager expressed that she has not heard from any of them regarding making Key West a regular stop.

It is expected the City of Key West will need a couple months to bring any potential ordinance up for a vote as it is too late for the August meeting, and as of this meeting the first scheduled cruise ships are expected in September – however, it is anticipated this date will slip. Disney is not scheduled into Key West until mid-November. The City plans to issue guidance to the cruise ships for the ports under the control of the city and seek a legal specialist to help.

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