With the current debate over the ship channel widening feasibility leading up to the October referendum, I observe that the two sides in the debate are often at extremes with each other, and for a questionable reason. So often, in any forum, or in any conversation about the issue, it becomes not the widening survey itself, but pro or con cruise ships in general. I wish the participants could separate the issue at hand from the topic in general.
The fact is that we now have cruise ships using the port of Key West on a regular basis, and that is a fact that is unlikely to change in the near future, no matter what. The port calls have become an important part of the local economy, in several different ways. I think most would agree that it is indeed important, but certainly and plainly not the most important feature of our tourism based economy.
So, all the tangential issues of effluent discharge, silting, environmental damage, cheap t shirt stores replacing boutique shops, who really derives the economic benefits, all of those issues are stand alone issues regardless of the upcoming referendum.
To include them in the debate over the referendum is just clouding the water (pun intended).
The issue before the voters in Key West is whether or not we should compel our local government to request a sizable, detailed, and costly Federal study of the channel widening and dredging to follow up on the 2010 Corps of Engineers report. If the answer is “yes,” then the question becomes one of affordability, political will, Federal law and regulations, and so forth. I think we’re talking decades here, not months or a few years. If the answer is “no” then perhaps we can take a more focused and reasoned look at the future of cruise ship tourism in Key West. Included in that examination for the next few decades’ prospects should also, and perhaps primarily include the rise of sea level and its impact on Key West and the Keys as a whole. For example, what happens if the rise continues to accelerate and in thirty years we have lost some major percent of our land and shoreline? The sea level will continue to rise for the foreseeable future, regardless of a ship channel, and we should be much more concerned with its impact in the coming decades, than with who derives what benefit from cruise ship tourism. I’d rather have the Corps of Engineers look into that for us to consider. But, I digress.
Anti dredging should not be equated with anti cruise ship. To some, on both sides of the issue, it has become defacto, but it should not be the case. Most certainly, those who take sides in this debate have their considered opinions, and generally I think most minds are set before the question to the voters will be decided… but for what reason?