Thursday, November 29, 2012

Another Discount Airline to Service Key West!

The good news for air travelers to and from Key West just keeps getting better.

Fresh on the heels of the announcement of new non-stop flights between Key West and New York City and Washington D.C., another airline has announced it will service the Key West market.

Silver Airways, a new discount airline that boasts more Bahamian destinations than any other US airline, has announced they will offer flights starting in January 2013 between Key West and the following cities: Eleuthera, Fort Lauderdale, Gainesville, Fort Myers, and Tampa.

Click on the image, above, to see the schedule for flights on a Tuesday in January.

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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Cat Painted Pink for Costume Contest

Cat painted pink and pushed around in a baby stroller
at last night's Pet Masquerade in Key West.

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Thursday, October 04, 2012

Where's the Cruise Control? Port's President Says Congressional Action Unnecessary

One can't help but think we are being played as gullible fools by some politicians and lobbyists.

How big are the new ships?  
This is the Oasis of the Seas,  
which departs from Ft. Lauderdale. 
 It has a capacity of  5,300 passengers.
Widening of the channel to accommodate larger cruise ships has been debated for the past few years. The majority of Key West has said it does NOT want larger cruise ships, especially if it means dredging in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Key West Travel Guide has come out and said "We are completely against dredging in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary".
Five times larger than the Titanic, 
the Oasis of the Seas is 1,187 feet long and 20 stories high.

To even consider dredging in the Sanctuary, a three-million dollar study is required which needs the approval of the City of Key West.

Late last year, the Key West City Commission overwhelmingly voted 6-1 against funding a study of the feasibility of such a widening.  After that, the Mayor of Key West acknowledged: “I think for now it’s over and done with...Hopefully (the city manager) got the message...the commission doesn’t want it, and the public doesn’t want it.”

Many locals have been led to believe that even if the study was done, it would still require an act of Congress to get dredging in the Sanctuary approved.  The pro-dredging group has been saying the study is an innocent step along the way.  According to them, the study wouldn't mean dredging.

But this week's Keynoter has a letter to the editor from Doug Wheeler, president of Florida Ports council, who wrote:
"In addition, although there is a regulation against dredging in the Florida Keys Marine Sanctuary, there is precedent for the U.S. Commerce Department to provide a one-time waiver for dredging.  There is no need for Congress to change any laws if the dredging is identified as a viable project by the Corps."
Which means that if the study shows some economic benefit then dredging may proceed without the need for Congress to act.

Meanwhile, the The Lower Keys Guides Association, a collection of concerned fishing guides, is also dead against the idea of dredging in the marine Sanctuary.

They have released the following statement:
“We stand adamantly opposed to this idea! Such a dredging project would negatively impact the health of the area’s ecosystem in ways that cannot be anticipated. This project could devastate our fishery; one that has yet to fully recover from the last such event in 2004. The area to be dredged is located in one of Key West’s prime tarpon staging areas off Ft Zachary Taylor.
As tarpon fishing communities in Texas and Homosassa have learned, you can negatively affect the fishery to such a degree that the tarpon no longer frequent the area. We believe that dredging Key West Harbor could very well be just such an event and the repercussions could be permanent and devastating.”
The Key West City Commission is going to debate the matter on October 17th 2012 at 6:00pm

So, be warned:  Approving the study is a green light for dredging.  This may be the last opportunity that the community of Key West has to prevent the dredging and the overwhelming negative effect it would cause on our environment, tourism experience, and quality of life.

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Saturday, June 30, 2012

Another Oil Rig Plans to Drill in Cuba

Songa Mercur - Russian oil rig

Last month, it was reported that Cuba's first attempt at deep-water oil drilling had resulted in a very expensive dry well.  Good news.

Unfortunately, four other international oil companies are lined up to rent the highly specialized drilling rig, Scarabeo-9, and take their chance at hitting oil in Cuba.  For Florida and the Florida Keys, drilling for oil in deep water so close to its shores threaten the region's beaches and eco-system.

The US embargo against Cuba makes Scarabeo-9 the only drilling rig able to not violate the rules of the embargo.  To not violate the embargo, a drilling rig must not have more than 10% of its onboard equipment come from US companies.

But now it has been announced that the Russians are coming with their own rig and, despite violating the US embargo, will be drilling offshore of Cuba.

In a press release recently released from Songa Offshore, the drilling rig owner stated:
"Songa Offshore SE is pleased to announce that a firm contract for the use of Songa Mercur has been agreed and signed with Zarubezhneft, a public joint stock company of Russia. The contract covers the use of the Songa Mercur for Zarubezhneft's upcoming drilling campaign offshore Cuba.
The contract will commence 1 July 2012, at which point the rig will depart Malaysia after completion of intermediate SPS activities.  The rig will remain in Trinidad at a standby rate until the drilling program commences late November 2012.  The firm contract is for 325 days with minimum aggregate total revenue of approximately $88 million, inclusive of mobilization elements.  The revenue value may increase depending upon the actual operational commencement date and any extension of the drilling program for well testing or other operational considerations. "
Map of areas planned to be drilled by Russian rig
According to Jorge Pinon of the University of Texas and an expert on Cuba's oil industry, "the Songa Mercur is loaded with US technology, including five Caterpillar generators, General Electric mud pump motors, and cementing equipment made by Halliburton. That will likely leave Russian operator Zarubezhneft in violation of the US’ Cuba sanctions."

Apparently the Russians don't care about the embargo, and there is little the US can do about it.

The only good news is the rig, known as Songa Mercur, can only drill in water depths up to 1200 feet, and will drill in areas further east and fairly close to shore, between Cuba and the Bahamas.
Map of ocean currents in the region

Should an oil spill occur, ocean currents and the Gulf Stream would likely spare the Florida Keys from oil impacting its shores.  As for mainland Florida, the eastern coast of the US, and the Bahamas, all would both likely be in harms way.

You can read more about the rig here.
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Monday, May 28, 2012

Good News: Cuba's First Deepwater Oil Well Comes Up Empty

When news hit South Florida and the Florida Keys that Cuba was planning to drill for oil in the Florida Straits, the narrow body of water separating the United States and the island of Cuba, a universal cringe was elicited throughout the region still reeling from the BP oil spill that just months prior threatened environmental Armageddon. (Just for clarification: no oil ever reached Key West, the Florida Keys, or South Florida).

Hard line Cuban-American politicians rattled their sabers and further complicated the anxiety by preventing the two nations from creating a mutual oil spill response plan.

All the while, the tiny island of Key West, only 90 miles from Cuba, worried what oil drilling so close to its shore might mean for the future of its beautiful and fragile ecosystem.

It turns out, due to an embargo enacted by the United States in response to the Cuba drilling plan, there is only one drilling rig in the entire world that is not affected by the embargo and can drill at the depths planned.  That rig, known as Scarabeo-9, pictured below, is one of the world's largest - measuring 377 feet long - and can drill at up to 12,000 feet in depth.  The Cuban wells are planned to be drilled at depths of .25 to 1.6 miles below the sea surface.

Scarabeo-9 is a mammoth floating rig that travels around the globe following a schedule of drilling appointments.  Leasing the rig is not cheap.  Repsol, the Spanish oil company leasing the rig to drill the first deepwater well in Cuba, is paying $500,000 per day for Scarabeo-9.

Oil drilling, especially in the deep ocean, is a lot like gambling, with participants wagering huge sums of money for the slim shot of hitting the jackpot.

The good news is that Scarabeo-9 has just completed drilling its first well and it has come up dry. No oil. No jackpot.  That well was estimated to have cost between 100-150 million dollars.

Scarabeo-9 is currently leased to drill up to four more wells in Cuba for other oil companies willing to take a gamble. Next up, the Malaysian oil company Petronas will take its chances drilling an exploratory well.

But after the remaining four wells are drilled by Scarabeo-9, the rig heads to Brazil.  So, Cuba has a few more chances at finding oil.  But if it doesn't, the rig leaves and with it Cuba's hope of finding a larger reserve of oil in the deep waters off its northern shore.  It is estimated that drilling wouldn't resume off Cuba's north coast for at least five to ten years.

The next well is to be drilled near the western province of Cuba, Pinar del Rio.

Keep your fingers crossed. The further west they drill, the longer the distance a spill would be carried by the Gulf Stream towards South Florida, and the larger the threat to the Florida Keys.

Below is a chart, put together by Center for Democracy in the Americas’ Cuba Program, showing the drilling "casino" map of Cuba:

(click map for larger version)

Update (5/29/2012):  According to Reuters, the Chairman of Repsol said they are likely done with drilling in Cuba!  Here is the story:

May 29 (Reuters) - Spanish oil firm Repsol is considering pulling out of Cuba after its first well in an oil exploration project off the island came up dry, its chairman said.
"We're not going to drill any more ... I'm almost certain we won't do any more activities there," Chairman Antonio Brufau said at a news conference to present the firm's 2012-2016 strategy on Tuesday. 

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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Parking Meters Removed from Smathers Beach!

Remains of a parking meter.
All parking meters have been removed from South Roosevelt Boulevard, the road adjacent to Smather's Beach, Key West's largest stretch of sandy beach.

The meters were originally installed, to the dismay of many locals, in 1997.  Two years later it was pointed out that the road is actually the property of the State of Florida, and the City of Key West had no permission to install meters and collect fees.  According to reports in 2009, the meters contributed approximately $37,000 to annual revenues for the city.

City workers were today seen hammering down the stumps of what was left of the meter poles, each of which were cut off at ground level.

Parking is now FREE at Smather's Beach.

City workers flattening meter stumps.
Photo of the now meter-less Smather's Beach
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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Coming Soon: Hemingway Hotels & Resorts

The family of Ernest Hemingway has licensed the Hemingway name to developers of a new chain of hotels based on the famous writer's personality.

Hemingway Hotels & Resorts is now seeking hotels interested in being part of the newly formed brand, and is actively seeking submissions from their website.

Qualifications include:

  • hotel locations must have a connection with Hemingway (like obvious candidates Key West and Cuba)
  • four-star minimum need only apply

According to the developer's website:
"...each Hemingway Hotel must be true to its environment, unique architecturally, and committed to providing guests with active, passionate one-of-a-kind experiences that deeply enrich their lives."
Interestingly, a few years ago, the Chinese announced plans to build a Hemingway Hotel in Cuba, but no word of progress has been recently mentioned and it isn't clear if they will be part of this new brand.
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Saturday, March 03, 2012

Report: Key West Has Highest Average House Prices in Florida

A report just released by Lender Processing Services, a leading provider of mortgage services and data about the real estate industry, shows that Key West has the highest average price for homes in the State of Florida.

According to the report, the average home price in Key West was $358,000 during November 2011.  Key West was the only community in Florida to have an average price above $300,000.  The next most expensive community Naples, known for their expensive property, which had an average price of $220,000.

Amazingly, Key West's lead in the report comes after a 51% decline in Key West prices since the peak of the real estate market in September 2005.

Here is a chart of the data:

$358,000Key WestSeptember 2005- 51%
$220,000The VillagesAugust 2006- 18%
$219,000Naples-Marco IslandJanuary 2006- 55%
$211,000WauchulaMarch 2007- 39%
$198,000United StatesJune 2006- 30.6%
$194,000Miami-Miami Beach-KendallJanuary 2007- 55%
$191,000Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano BeachJune 2006- 54%
$191,000West Palm Beach-Boca Raton-Boynton BeachMarch 2006- 54%
$188,000Fort Walton Beach-Crestview-DestinSeptember 2005- 43%
$186,000Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach-Deerfield BeachApril 2006- 55%
$178,000Panama City-Lynn HavenAugust 2005- 43%
$168,000TallahasseeJune 2006- 29%
$166,000Pensacola-Ferry Pass-BrentMarch 2006- 28%
$163,000GainesvilleSeptember 2006- 34%
$163,000Sarasota-Bradenton-VeniceNovember 2005- 55%
$162,000FloridaApril 2006- 52.1%
$160,000Sebastian-Vero BeachOctober 2005- 50%
$153,000JacksonvilleJune 2006- 45%
$150,000Cape Coral-Fort MyersMarch 2006- 58%
$144,000Port St. LucieNovember 2005- 57%
$143,000Orlando-KissimmeeJune 2006- 56%
$143,000Tampa-St. Petersburg-ClearwaterMay 2006- 52%
$142,000Lake CityOctober 2006- 34%
$141,000PalatkaJune 2006- 43%
$140,000Palm Bay-Melbourne-TitusvilleNovember 2005- 56%
$138,000Punta GordaOctober 2005- 56%
$131,000Homosassa SpringsApril 2006- 46%
$130,000Deltona-Daytona Beach-Deerfield BeachApril 2006- 55%
$130,000SebringJune 2006- 52%
$129,000ArcadiaApril 2006- 60%
$127,000OcalaJune 2006- 48%
$127,000OkeechobeeJune 2006- 51%
$127,000Palm CoastMarch 2006- 54%
$113,000LakelandJune 2006- 55%
$97,000ClewistonJanuary 2007- 66%
Source: Lender Processing Services
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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Who is Representative David Rivera? Oh my.

Florida politics is a messy business, with all the greasy special interests, hypocritical posturing, and plain old corruption.

Which brings us to the redistricting maps of Florida.  The Florida Keys are about to get a new Representative in Congress if the new redistricting maps are approved by the courts.  Out will go Representative Ros-Lehtinen, and in will come Representative David Rivera.

So who is David Rivera and does how well will he represent the people of Key West and the Florida Keys?

A quick glance at his public voting record and the "Christian Coalition voter guide", for which Rivera completed a survey, shows an extremely conservative, right-wing politician who doesn't care much for gay rights...or public radio:
Supports Amendment to prevent same sex marriage. (Aug 2010, "Federal Marriage Amendment to prevent same sex marriage"
Supports banning homosexuals in the military. (Aug 2010)
 Voted YES on terminating funding for National Public Radio. (Mar 2011)
Rivera's short time in Congress has been plagued by controversy. He is under two federal investigations, by the FBI and the IRS, for his dealings with a $1 million dollar "consulting contract" with the Flagler Dog Track, which is today the Magic City Casino.  You can read more about that here.

Here is Wikipedia's list of the controversies, which despite the efforts of his staff to whitewash the page, has done a good job of summarizing the major problems that have dogged Rivera's political life:
Domestic violence allegations 
On October 13, 1994 a domestic abuse charge was filed in Miami-Dade County against one David M. Rivera. Rivera denies that he was the defendant in the 1994 domestic violence case, and the victim of the attack has maintained that David Rivera, the politician, was not the defendant in her case. The case file has been destroyed by the court (case files are retained for only 5 years,).
The Miami Herald reported that according to a woman who is friendly with the victim's brother, Rivera and the victim came to her home as a couple to attend a dinner party about 10 years ago. The victim's mother also once worked on one of Rivera's political campaigns, records show. 
Mail truck collision 
On September 6, 2002, Rivera was involved in a traffic collision with a truck carrying thousands of fliers, produced by Rivera's campaign opponent at the time, that included a last-minute attack on Rivera's character and detailed past domestic violence accusations against him. According to reports filed by the Florida Highway Patrol, a car driven by Rivera hit the truck and forced it to the shoulder of the Palmetto Expressway, ten minutes before the truck's 6 p.m. deadline to deliver the fliers to the post office, preventing the fliers from being delivered in time to be mailed.
Rivera has said that he had planned to meet up with the truck on an exit ramp off the Expressway so he could retrieve a batch of his own campaign fliers. The owner of the company that produced the anti-Rivera fliers maintains that the truck driver did not voluntarily pull off the highway. According to the FHP incident report, the collision occurred in the middle of the road.
Additional source of income 
Rivera on more than one occasion stated in sworn documents that his primary source of personal income, besides his salary from the Florida State Legislature, was from freelancing consulting work he did for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). However, when the Miami Herald asked USAID, the agency said that Rivera never worked for them. On October 21 of 2010, a suit was filed in Miami-Dade Circuit Court stating that Rivera should be disqualified from running for office for violating state laws requiring public officials and candidates to file full and complete financial disclosure forms. After the initial investigation was reported, Rivera amended his disclosure forms, removing any reference to USAID as a source of income for the seven years in question. 
Dog track payments 
The Miami Herald has reported that "[t]he Miami-Dade state attorney's office is investigating more than $500,000 in secret payments from the owners of the Flagler Dog Track to a company tied to" Rivera. According to the Herald: "Most of the money was paid in early 2008, weeks after Rivera -- then a member of the Florida House of Representatives -- helped run a political campaign backed by the dog track to win voter approval for Las Vegas-style slot machines at parimutuel venues in Miami-Dade County." Rivera did not report any income from either company in financial disclosure forms filed with the Florida Ethics Commission, but instead "reported that he worked during those years as a consultant for the U.S. Agency for International Development," which had no record of him ever having worked there. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement subsequently took the lead in the investigation. In July 2011, the Miami Herald reported that the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service were also investigating the dog track payments.
Wikipedia editing 
In April 2011 Politico reported Rivera's press secretary, Leslie Veiga, had been active in editing Rivera's Wikipedia article and making it more favorable to Rivera. Veiga denied any impropriety.
If that weren't enough to make a voter gag, the organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), has named Rivera as one of the most corrupt members of Congress in its 2011 Most Corrupt Report.
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Friday, February 17, 2012

Schooner Western Union Closer to Becoming Florida's Official Flagship

The Florida legislature took another step towards making the Schooner Western Union the official flagship of the state.

The Senate, in a unanimous vote passed SB326 known as State Symbols/State Flagship and sponsored by Senator Bullard, which states:
Official state flagship.—The schooner Western Union, a 130-foot historic sailing vessel of the tall ship class, built in Key West and first launched in 1939, is designated the official state flagship.
Now it is up to the Florida House to vote on their identical bill, H395 sponsored by Representive Broxson.

It is would be quite the honor to have the Schooner Western Union as the state's flagship.  Already it is designated the official flagship of Key West.

Here is an early photo of the schooner, built to lay and maintain communication cables between Key West and the Caribbean.  Notice the large pulleys, along the port side of the vessel, used to handle the large and heavy cables.
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