Key West channel study referendum: Opponents use environment to mask anti-tourist bias

Way up on the mainland, folks in search of a little something to say talk about the weather. “How ’bout that (rain), (wind), (snow)” is appropriate. In Key West where no one much checks the forecast until seven minutes before a hurricane, weather is not a conversational option.

That doesn’t meant Key West has nothing to share over coffee. On the short list: chickens, homeless people, fat tourist families, corrupt (fill in the blank), once-a-week garbage collections, cruise ships, bicycles, scooters, lack of assisted living facilities, mandatory recycling, traffic on North Roosevelt Boulevard during the three-year, four-lane reconstruction, and the never-enlightening delineations among Conch, Bubba, Local, Snowbird and who-cares.

That’s enough. I did say short list. Oh, one more.

This summer’s snarler is the Oct. 1 study-on-channel-widening referendum. The Key West City Commission punted the binding referendum to city voters last October. The language boils down to this: Do you want the city to ask the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to do a study on the effects of widening a one-mile stretch of the main ship channel.

I know about this one first hand because my company in April took on a piece of the communications plans for the political action committee that supports the study. Seemed pretty simple to me: It’s a study. Not a decision. Figure out the latest on environment, economy and quality of life so the city can make smart decisions over the next two decades.

Widening the channel might be a very bad idea. Or a good one. Or a “who knows” one. That’s the problem. We don’t know. And, for the life of me, I can’t understand why anyone could be against finding out.

They are. Those opposed to any changes in the channel and the Florida Keys Marine Sanctuary in which it lies have positioned the ballot question as “do you want to widen the channel.” Not, do you want to gather enough facts and figures to decide whether widening the channel is a good idea.

If the opposition were based mostly in environmental concerns, I could understand. But environmental preservation barely masks an arrogant sneering over tourists who arrive on cruise ships. For too many opponents, tourists without private planes ought not spend much time in Key West. I overheard an opponent say in June: “I’d happily pay seven percent more in taxes just to get rid of the cruise ships.”

No many of us have the spare cash.

Cruise ship tourists and crew pump almost $90 million a year into Key West’s local businesses. An additional $5 million goes into government coffers, including schools. The state gets that much, too. There aren’t enough eco-tours, boutique sail boats and wealthy second-homers in the world to plug the hole Key West would find if cruise ships disappeared.

The economy, the environment and our quality of life are not mutually exclusive. Just saying no precludes informed decisions and limits possibilities. The sooner we figure that out, the sooner we can get the study done and get back to groaning over the North Roosevelt traffic.






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