The nonprofit Reef Relief has announced it opposes channel dredging in Key West based on the 2010 Army Corps of Engineers study that predicted such a project would have a "significant negative effect on environmental quality" and harm coral along 17 acres.
"We believe them," wrote Peter Anderson, chairman of the nonprofit's board, in a statement posted online Monday. "Based on this assessment, Reef Relief would vigorously oppose a dredge operation."
The statement comes two weeks after Reef Relief held its 26th annual membership meeting in Key West, where several members handed out copies of a letter from the group's founder blasting the nonprofit for not taking a stand on the matter.
On Oct. 1, Key West voters will decide whether the city should order a feasibility study from the Army Corps of Engineers on widening Cut B in the main shipping channel to better accommodate modern cruise ships.
Reef Relief, as a nonprofit, cannot take a political stand on the referendum, Anderson wrote, but after reviewing the Corps' 2010 report it had no problem opposing dredging.
"We hope this clears up any misconception within the body politic as to Reef Relief's commitment to our mission, to the reef and to this community spanning 26 years," wrote Anderson.
The board also includes Bob Cardenas, David Kirwan, Adam Gersten, Ed Russo, Mimi Stafford, Kevin Keeley, Kate Cardenas and Tricia Coyne, according to the group's website.
The statement, posted Monday on the group's website was released as a "letter to the editor" and sent to local media outlets, ends by thanking Jolly Benson, chairman of the political action committee opposing the study, for bringing the 2010 study to Reef Relief's attention.
Benson spoke at the nonprofit's July 15 annual meeting, along with attorney Jennifer Hulse, who represented the Key West Chamber of Commerce PAC formed to support the study.
"I am delighted to see that Reef Relief has come out strongly against the dredging," said former County Mayor Shirley Freeman, a 26-year member of the nonprofit. "It's the right thing for Reef Relief to do because it is the premiere protector of the reef."
Freeman recalled years ago when boaters would anchor on the coral reef, ripping up the fragile ecosystem.
That inspired the formation of Reef Relief, she said. Today, boaters anchor on permanent buoys.
"Reef Relief is the one that put the buoys in," Freeman said.
Proponents of the study say a majority "yes" vote at the polls wouldn't automatically lead to dredging, but the opposition calls that nonsense.
The feasibility study talked about in the Oct. 1 ballot question would be "an engineering assessment of how to proceed with the dredging -- not whether to dredge," wrote Reef Relief's founder DeeVon Quirolo in an email to friends the morning of the nonprofit's July 15 meeting.
Monday's Reef Relief statement noted the fiery local political debate over the proposed channel-dredging study.
That debate will continue Friday, when the Lodging Association of the Florida Keys and Key West hosts Benson and, from the chamber's PAC, Dr. Robin Lockwood, at its annual membership luncheon.
In addition, John Dolan-Heitlinger will appear on the panel on behalf of the Key West Seaport Alliance's PAC, the third to form in advance of the Oct. 1 ballot question.
The luncheon will be at noon Friday at the Key West Marriott Beachside Hotel, 3841 N. Roosevelt Blvd. Admission, which includes the meal, is $30. To register, call 305-296-4959 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
"It is fondly hoped that the same level of passion, commitment, money and energy devoted to the study referendum can go into education and water quality restoration and protection efforts," Anderson wrote.
"Those are the battles we wage every day."
But Anderson quoted directly from the Corps' 2010 study, available in full on the city's website, www.keywestcity.com.
"The project would also have negative effects on an unspecified amount of critical environmental habitat," the study concluded. "Increased cruise traffic, as with an increase in any waterborne commerce, would likely also cause an increase in water pollution and turbidity."