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The Key West Citizen (www.keysnews.com) today feaatures a long article about a recent channel-widening study gathering at Tropic Cinema, which I spaced out attending and might never stop hearing the end of that from the angels.
“Shall the City of Key West request that the Army Corps of Engineers conduct a comprehensive feasibility study, at no monetary cost to the City, to determine the environmental, economic and social impacts of widening the Key West Main Ship Channel for use by modern and longer cruise ships while also addressing navigational safety?”
My interjected thoughts in italics. I added pics.
Corps official addresses ballot question
Oct. 1 referendum asks if city should order dredging study
BY GWEN FILOSA Citizen Staff
This fall’s referendum asking voters to seek a $3 million, three-year study on the impacts of dredging Key West’s Main Ship Channel is far from a simple question.
Nothing is black or white or quick and easy when it comes to the federal process in which a study produces a full-fledged harbor dredging operation, a top Army Corps of Engineers official told about 90 people at a forum Thursday night.
In keeping with its long-held reputation, Key West has a channel-widening debate like no other American city, said Eric Bush of the corps’ Jacksonville district office, one of four speakers at the detailed marine science session held at Tropic Cinema.
Baloney, this is not a channel-widening/dredging debate, it is a cruise ship debate. “Should the channel be dredged wider so Key West can have more of the this size cruise ship already calling on Key West, and even bigger cruise ships calling on Key West?” is how the referendum really should read.
The ballot question asks if the city should order the corps to deliver a feasibility study on how dredging would affect the island’s economy and environment.
Dredging is a red herring, misdirection. The anti-referendum’s logo and campaign poster are misdirected.
The issue is more of this kind and even bigger cruise ships calling on Key West.
What it doesn’t say is that the harbor in question is federally protected as the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
Tell that federally protected baloney to whatever lives in the channel underneath what those two cruise ships above produced for all the world to see.
The Tropic Cinema’s largest theater was filled with study advocates who fear Key West’s declining cruise ship passenger numbers are a trend that will do away with the visitors’ annual estimated $84 million a year in spending.
But the event also drew dozens of locals who are as anti-study as they are anti-cruise industry. The study is nothing more than an endorsement of dredging, they say.
It’s not a new argument, said one of the most prominent pro-study locals.
The wolf enters the sheepfold, and I wonder if the sheep even know it?
Key West’s contingent of anti-cruise ship, anti-dredge residents are leaving out critical facts to suit their campaign over the environmental impacts of widening the channel, says Robert Maguire, who heads the Bar Pilots Association, which created a political action committee (PAC) this year.
The dredging option would be increasing the 300-foot Cut B to 450 feet by widening the channel 75 feet on each side, according to a “reconnaissance report” the Army Corps of Engineers did in 2010.
Cut B is 3.8 miles from the reef, Maguire points out, and almost all of the dredging would take place more than 4 miles from it.
Key West until 1989 dumped its raw sewage about 100 yards east of the middle of Cut B, he said, and until 2001 untreated stormwater runoff landed in the area.
Maguire said he has heard the anti-study movement’s arguments before, when the Navy dredged the Main Ship Channel in 2004, removing more than 750,000 cubic yards of various matter.
The Navy’s dredging, when crews deepened the harbor to 34 feet, fell under the Marine Sanctuary’s permit category of maintenance.
Maguire said the proposed dredging of Cut B would be less than 25 percent of the work the Navy did then.
“It is now clear that the predictions of an environmental disaster were unfounded,” said Maguire.
“The feasibility study will separate fact from fiction.”
And if it passes?
The ballot question seems simple enough, but what remains unclear is the weight that a “yes” vote would carry.
At least five times a different local asked a version of the question, “If it passes, is that the last chance voters have to stop the dredging?”
Bush couldn’t give a yes or no answer last week, citing the appropriations process and the fact that the sanctuary hasn’t given the nod to the potential dredging, currently prohibited in the protected waters.
Of course that’s the last say the voters will have in it. If the referendum passes, the federal bureaucrats and the lobbyists and the backroom deals and Congress will run the show, and after it’s all said and done, Key West will received more of this kind of cruise ship, and even bigger cruise ships.
Sanctuary Superintendent Sean Morton says there isn’t a permit category that fits dredging for economic benefits.
I wonder if Morton will ever say the Sanctuary opposes more dredging to bring more and bigger cruise ships into the Sanctuary?
If voters say “yes” to the study Oct. 1, the city would have to hammer out a contract deal with the corps, according to federal policy. Then Congress would have to agree to it.
“If Congress authorizes the study, there is definitely a risk the study could go all the way to completion,” Bush said.
“And,” he noted, “the project could never happen. That happens all the time. It’s definitely not an automatic rubber stamp.”
So if the referendum passes, the entire process still would take years to even get to Congress’ doorstep.
“It comes down to the power of the purse,” said Bush.
Amen, finally someone told the truth.
“Once it gets authorized, we’re not going to build it until it gets appropriated. That’s a two-year budget cycle as a minimum.”
“The corps is not an advocate for a project until Congress authorizes that project,” Bush said.
By the numbers
The Army Corps of Engineers’ 2010 study concluded that while dredging would have “significant environmental impacts,” there was a “significant federal interest for national economic development in pursuing channel improvements at Key West Harbor.”
Translated: money trumps environmental impact.
“Key West’s local economy relies heavily on the seasonal and annual economic engine of the cruise ship industry,” the 2010 study says.
Even that conclusion is up for debate in Key West.
Though presentations at the forum focused on marine science, some of the PowerPoint slides held economic statistics linked directly to the Keys’ global attraction of the living coral reef and fish-filled waters.
There were two speakers from the marine science field Thursday who took stock of the economic revenue the Florida Keys rake in from recreational fishing: $810 million a year, with $109 million just in tax, while providing tens of thousands of jobs.
“The Florida Keys is known as the birthplace of flats fishing,” said Aaron Adams, a Ph.D. at Bonefish and Tarpon Trust who holds a Coast Guard’s captain’s license.
“It has low environmental impact. Much is catch and release.”
And a PowerPoint presentation from sanctuary director Morton ticked off more numbers, stating, for example, that Monroe County derives 63 percent of its income from marine outdoor activities, which generate some $2.36 billion.
One in three Keys residents own a boat, and the shrimp, lobster, stone crab and fin fish industry provides $100 million worth of income to the Keys and 4,310 jobs, Morton said.
The proposed feasibility study at issue for voters Oct. 1 wouldn’t be the same as the 2010 study, Bush noted Thursday.
“Significant environmental impacts haven’t been investigated,” he said. “Because it’s in a marine sanctuary.”
Thursday’s forum also featured a discussion over one of the most divisive topics related to dredging along with cruise ship traffic: Siltation.
Silt, the mixture of the stuff that lies on the seafloor including sand, affects water quality and can stress marine life when stirred up.
But in a natural setting, silt can provide food for corals and other organisms, said Jason Wolf, who manages the Protect Our Reefs program at Mote Marine and is a Florida Keys Development Officer.
“There’s natural silt on the bottom of the ocean,” Wolf said Friday.
“Occasionally silt gets stirred up. But when you have constant situation, turbidity, it can affect coral and other organisms like sponges and seagrass by irritating them and making it difficult for them to grow and feed.”
This happens several days a week in Key West, 2-3 cruise ships per day, as they leave Key West, and as they arrive.
Coral exerts a lot of energy to rid itself of silt, Wolf said.
Adams, the Ph.D., weighed in.
“Seagrass can’t grow as well,” he said. “Sediment lands on seagrass blades, inhibits growth.”
Even clams can be forced from their burrows, he said.
On the other side of the coin, a light-hearted question came up Thursday.
“If it’s voted down, can we all go back to playing bocce and figuring out which way to drive on North Roosevelt?” Ed Russo asked, drawing a few laughs from the crowd during the mostly dead-serious meeting.
Bush said only the city government could answer that question.
Naja Girard, President of Last Stand and Co-Publisher of Key West the Newspaper (www.thebluepaper.com) told me that someone in the audience said the cruise ship honchos had gotten together and said they were not going to chip in for the cost of a channel-widening study, if the channel-widening referendum passed. That news strangely didn’t make it into the Citizen article.
To heap it on, the Citizen ran this letter to the editor today, from the wolf:
Study is a good thing
I’d like to point out some facts that have been lost in the channel widening debate. Many locals are surprised to discover that the work will take place nowhere near the reef, as they have been led to believe.
Cut B is located just west of Fort Taylor; it is the northern leg of the channel just before entering the harbor. It is 3.8 miles from the reef, while 90 percent of the widening would take place more than 4 miles from the reef. The old sewage outfall pipe for Key West terminated just 100 yards east from the midpoint of Cut B.
For more than 30 years, right up until 1989, all of Key West’s untreated raw sewage was dumped on this spot through a 30-inch pipe, to be dispersed north and south by strong currents. Until 2001, untreated city stormwater runoff was also discharged here. This is the area to be studied; it is not an untouched natural environment. In fact, this area is less than 150 yards from former dredge spoil areas.
In 2004, the Navy did maintenance dredging of the entire channel and port. That project removed more than 750,000 cubic yards of material and used a state of the art closed bucket system to reduce turbidity, which is what we can expect in the widening project. The proposed Cut B channel widening would be less than 25 percent of that Navy project, which was the most environmentally monitored dredging project to ever be undertaken, and it was a success. Although there was much complaining and disastrous projections in the lead-up to the Navy project, it is now clear that the predictions of an environmental disaster were unfounded.
Today, the proposed channel widening will cost about $6 million. Another $21 million will be earmarked for mitigation of real issues that our island face, such as reef restoration and stormwater mitigation. This will leave our environment in better shape than before the widening. The feasibility study will separate fact from fiction. Support science, vote yes to Support the Study.
Capt. Robert Maguire, director
Key West Bar Pilots Association
Wake up, more and bigger cruise ship opponents, the wolf is not only in your home, he is in your bed.
“What big eyes you have, and what big teeth you have …”
Better get that knife working overtime, lots of people in Key West are far more worried about the local economy than they are about a few more dead clams and less tarpon in the channel, and cruise ships dumping their sort of treated human sewerage and other garbage into the ocean out of sight of land.