Mega-Cruise Ships Creating Waves in Key West

PHOTO: The Carnival cruise ship Victory prepares to leave port in Key West, Fla., in this Feb. 15, 2013 photo.PlayKaren Bleier/AFP/Getty Images
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The tranquil waters of Key West have become the subject of a murky debate between locals and state officials who recently suggested that the city's port undergo major improvements to fuel tourism.

The Florida Department of Transportation released a 29-page report last week that stated, among other recommendations, that upgrades must be made to Key West's port in order to maintain cruise ship business.

Titled "Florida's Cruise Industry: A Statewide Perspective," the state report asserts that "improvements are needed to widen and deepen berth and channel areas, and such improvements have yet to enter the feasibility study stage. This is being viewed by cruise lines as a lack of commitment on the part of Key West to encourage cruise business, as it is difficult for cruise lines to make deployment decisions and commitments without knowing if their ships will be able to be accommodated."

It is unclear which cruise lines the report is referencing. The port is serviced by Carnival Cruise Lines, Celebrity Cruises, Disney Cruise Line, Holland America Line, Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean International.

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"I can tell you that all Carnival Cruise Lines ships currently fit in the Key West channel," Carnival spokeswoman Jennifer de la Cruz said, adding that company officials had not read the state's report.

Other cruise lines did not respond to ABC News' requests for comment.

But the president and CEO of the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), a trade association that counts all of the lines servicing Key West as members, did make a general statement in support of the report upon its release.

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"As this report highlights, Florida and the cruise industry share a unique relationship in furthering the state's economic development and prosperity," said Christine Duffy of CLIA. "The cruise industry is proud of the contributions it makes to Florida and we look forward to continuing to work with the state and numerous local stakeholders to advance mutually beneficial and sustainable growth."

Whether that growth will include the changes to Key West's port remains uncertain.

Key West has long been a popular port, raking in close to $5.3 million in disembarkation fees in 2012. But only about $2 million of that is revenue for the city, according to Assistant City Manager Mark Z. Finigan. The remainder goes to a private corporation that owns the island's main shipping terminal.

Opponent say the revenue the city makes is not enough to merit the cost and possible ecological impact of altering the port.

Key West residents seem to agree; last month 75 percent of voters shot down a referendum to approve a study on the feasibility of dredging and widening the channel. The Key West Committee for Responsible Tourism also opposes such an endeavor.

The state Department of Transportation analysis was "trite and tired," committee spokesman Jolly Benson told KeysNet.

EDITORS NOTE: An earlier version of this story included an incorrect number representing the city's revenue from disembarkation fees. The Walt Disney Co. is the parent company of ABC News and Disney Cruise Line.