Anti-cruise ship campaign opens Caroline Street office

BY TERRY SCHMIDA
KONK LIFE STAFF WRITER
A small consolation of the tragic pandemic/economic collapse has been a corresponding improvement in ecology that’s been noted at home and abroad. And if environmental campaigners Jolly Benson and Arlo Haskell have their way, this presumed improvement in the local water quality will be made permanent.

This week the Key West Committee for Safer Cleaner Ships (www.safercleanerships.comopened an office at 720b Caroline St. Their aim is to collect 1,600 signatures, enough to deal the cruise ship industry and its local supporters, a major setback. Three goals are posted to the group’s website. They include: “Limiting persons disembarking from cruise ships to a total of 1,500 persons per day; Prohibiting cruise ships with a capacity of 1,300 or more persons from disembarking; and giving priority to cruise lines with the best environmental and health records.”

Voter Petition Protect Key West, Smaller, Fewer Cruise ships Photos by Bill Klipp
All photos © Bill Klipp, not for Commercial Use of any type, for personal use only.
Submitted to Konk Life Zenfolio acct, Guy deBoer ()

Even as a group of locals demonstrated on May 12 against the restrictions on economic activity brought on by political decisions, Benson, Haskell and other volunteers were at work drumming up the signatures they say they’ve been told they need to line up by June 1, by City Clerk Cheryl Smith, to put the issue to voters in a referendum.
The group is also accepting donations to help defray its “legal fees, staffing requirements, headquarters rent, and marketing materials.”
Benson first came to local prominence in 2013 when he lead opposition to a proposed feasibility study by the Army Corps of Engineers to widen Key West’s main shipping channel for larger cruise ships.
According to the CDC Case Study cited on www.safercleanerships.com cruise ships do “create silt clouds around our reef that threaten the survival of juvenile corals,” clips of which can be watched on the site.
Also mentioned is a lawsuit in which “Carnival [Cruise Lines] was fined $40 million for dumping plastics and oily discharges in 2016 and put on probation. They violated probation by falsifying records and were fined an additional $20 million in 2019.”
Time will tell whether concern for the environment and quality of life issues will soon be returned to the political fore in a town closed up tight by the Corona virus.
Yet, according to the CDC study quoted, “cruise ship-linked cases of Covid-19 accounted for 17 percent all known cases in the U.S. during February and March.”
And perhaps, most ominously for those eager to re-open , “More than 50 percent of Americans say they will avoid crowded destinations until the Covid-19 threat is resolved.”  It is worth noting that “Cruise ship passengers make up 50 percent of all tourists in Key West, but only 8 percent of tourist spending.”
Those who are pro-mass tourist, and especially pro-cruise ship are sure to take an interest in the referendum initiative, but will likely against it.
It’s been discussed at a board meeting recently,” admitted Key West Chamber of Commerce Executive Vice President & CEO Scott Atwell. “but the Chamber hasn’t taken an official stance yet. There is so much confusion about the statistics being used. You can twist them around, and there’s some misleading stuff we’ve heard. But we’ve actually got a balance of opinions on our board, and will come up with a balanced response that’s not just based on emotion.”
One side of what’s sure to become an acrimonious debate will come out ahead, and emerge in a stronger position to negotiate the coming political storm over the issue.
Campaign Headquarters is open 8am–4pm every day. 720 B Caroline Street.
The Key West Committee for Safer Cleaner Ships will accept further signatures for its petition to limit cruise ship tourism from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Daily, until June 1.