Key West City Commissioners found a compromise path through the thorny issue of expanding the Mallory Square T-Pier at their Wednesday, June 2, meeting.
Commissioners also added new restrictions to the proposed electric vehicle ordinance, delaying its final approval to the July 20 meeting.
Commissioners voted unanimously to accept a $521,000, third-phase federal grant to replace and expand the T-pier. However, they also added language to the grant documents that will restrict ship size for vessels docking at the city-owned pier to 664 feet, the amount of the submerged bay bottom lease the city has with the state. While the 664-foot limit in the lease has been in place for decades, the city often docked ships longer than that at Mallory Square when the adjoining Pier B was empty, allowing the back end of the cruise ship to extend in front of the hotel there.
That 664-foot ship length is generally considered a smaller vessel compared to the cruise ships that regularly docked in Key West prior to the COVID-19 shutdown, which range between 800 and 900 feet. While passenger counts on ships differ, the number of passenger and crew members carried by a 664-foot ship would generally fall into the 1,500-person maximum set by one of the three cruise ship-limiting referendums approved by voters last October.
“That’s what the grant folks were willing to put in there, which really handles our referendum question,” Doug Bradshaw, director of the city’s Port and Marina Services Department, told commissioners Wednesday night.
Bradshaw added that the original design for an expanded T-pier, which would almost double its length from 115 feet to 216 feet and its width from 15 feet to 25 feet, was based on an intent to handle the larger cruise ships. The city’s grant application was submitted to the federal government in 2017, before the grassroots movement to limit ship size and daily passenger disembarkations gained steam.
Now, Bradshaw said, the city will foot the bill for a new engineering study to look at how much the T-pier would need to be expanded to safely handle ships within the referendum limits. The cost of that redesign is unknown at this point. Also unknown is who would pay to redesign the T-pier if the engineering report finds a smaller pier would suffice. Currently, the total estimated cost to rebuild a larger pier is $3.4 million, with the city paying 25% of that.
But Evan Haskell, one of the founders of the Key West Committee for Safer, Cleaner Ships, the non-profit organization that spearheaded the three referendum restricting cruise ships, said a smaller pier would cost less money.
“They are going to take in a new set of qualifying data and redesign the pier,” he said. “It is likely then the pier is going to be smaller. And that will save the city money.”
“We are reducing the size of the pier,” said Mayor Teri Johnston. “There is no doubt about it.”
Commissioners also agreed Wednesday to open the newly-built Mallory Square pier to the public when a ship is not in port. Currently, the existing T-pier is fenced off from the public due to safety concerns.
In related news, City Attorney Shawn Smith announced that legislation overturning the city’s cruise referendums has not yet reached the desk of Gov. Ron DeSantis. The state House and Senate approved a transportation bill with an amendment targeting Key West’s attempt to limit large ships. DeSantis has 30 days once that bill hits his desk to approve, veto or take no action, which is a de facto approval since the bill will automatically go into effect if he doesn’t act.
When the bill will hit his desk is unknown since it will not pass out of the legislature until he requests it. DeSantis has been focused on approving the state budget and other, high-profile legislation.
In other action, commissioners were close to finally approving new regulations for electric vehicles, which they have been working on since 2020. However, when they were told that pending applications from seven businesses would quickly put 100 e-scooters and five three-wheeled autocycles onto city streets and sidewalks, they balked. Instead, they voted 5-1 to impose new restrictions, stating that only applications received prior to Feb. 17, when the commission passed a proposed e-vehicle ordinance on first reading, would be considered.
That cut out six of the seven applicants. Those business owners will now be required to reapply for permission to rent e-bikes, scooters and autocycles, and commissioners have one year to complete a traffic study to determine the maximum number of rental electric vehicles allowed before processing those applications.
Commissioners also agreed to include language in the ordinance that would restrict e-vehicles on Duval Street sidewalks. Otherwise, the electric vehicles will be allowed to travel anywhere a bicycle is allowed.
“We’re getting very close on this one,” said Commissioner Sam Kaufman.