Proponents for dredging the Key West harbour channel have been working for years to get a wider channel that would allow cruise lines to bring in larger ships with less reliance on tug boats.  Here is a summary of some key events:

Army Corps of Engineers Reconnaissance Study:  Illegal to Dredge

The City of Key West requested the Army Corps of Engineers do a Reconnaissance Study of the potential impact of widening the Channel to Key West Harbor in order to safely accommodate longer cruise ships.  This preliminary study was published in November 2010.

The study reached a preliminary conclusion that there would be an economic benefit to the United States if widening the channel would attract an incremental increase in cruise ship calls to Key West.  The study also reported that it was contrary to Public Law 101-605 to drill, dredge or otherwise alter the sea bottom in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.  The recommendations noted that it would be unlikely that the Army Corps of Engineers could prepare the next step, a feasibility study, without first obtaining a waiver or variance to the prohibition of dredging.

Key West City Workshop Identifies Circuitous Path to Dredging

A workshop was held by the Key West City Commision July 13, 2011 to take public comments and hear from sanctuary representatives and the Army Corps of Engineers.  Billy Causey, SE Region Director of the National Oceanic and Air Administration testified at that meeting that there was in fact no permit category that NOAA staff had identified that would allow new dredging in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

Laurel Reichold, principal author of the Reconnaissance Study for the Army Corps of Engineers described the process at that meeting.  The  first step is a Congressional directive to start the Feasibility Study with a 50% Federal and 50% non-Federal sponsor. Next  is an appropriations bill to pay the Federal share of the study.  The Feasibility Study will be a very intensive review of the environmental and economic impacts.  An Environmental Impact Study would be prepared, including a mapping of the resources in the area  What has been done in the Reconnaissance Study is only a cursory review.  NOAA and other cooperating agencies would be brought to the table to understand their concerns. Throughout the report phase there is a period for public to review and comment. There is also an independent external peer review to provide comments.

Feasibility Study Referendum

In November 2011 the City Manager sponsored an ordinance that would place a ballot question on the January 2012 presidential preference primary whether the city should request a feasibility study.  In the opinion of a majority of the commissioners, this ordinance was so poorly worded and proposed for an inappropriate election date that the ordinance was defeated by a [6-1 margin with only Commissioner Rossi voting in favor].

On October 17, 2012 the City Manager again sponsored a resolution that would direct city staff to seek funding for a feasibility study and request the ACOE to conduct the study.  The resolution was considered at special meeting of the City Commission where presentations concerning the resolution were made by the Key West Chamber of Commerce, Last Stand and the Key West Seaport Alliance.  After the presentations, extensive public comment and extended discussion among the Mayor and Commissioners, a resolution was approved to place a binding referendum on whether a feasibility study should be conducted at the next regularly scheduled election in the City of Key West.  That referendum will be held on October 1 2013.

The ballot language and specific steps to be taken if the referendum is approved will be adopted by the City of Key West by ordinance at two meetings in 2013.