Archive for September 2011

Comments from Illinois

Hello, I am from Illinois and my family loves the beautiful and historic city of
Charleston.  Pass this on to anyone who can vote on this matter.  We love to
visit the city for it’s distinctive charm…which we think would be damaged if
these monster ships take residence there.  I have read that the industry
activity has picked up there in the last year and I thought what a shame.  I am
all for progress in economic development but at what cost?  I urge the city
fathers to vote against allowing the city to be taken over by these giants.  I
really do feel tourism could be hurt because I think people like us make return
visits to experience a more gracious time period that mingles with modern times
in the right balance.  The ground on which the blueprint of this independent
nation started should not be trampled on by commercialism…if we do not
preserve our past where is our future?

What will it take to Create a Solution?

Why does the SPA ignore important cruise ship issues so apparent to everyone else?

The latest Charleston Mercury tackles the issues factually and directly in a manner the SPA and the mayor can’t seem to emulate: “As readers know, we are in favor of having cruise ships and support job growth on the waterfront. This newspaper seeks a sunny outlook for the port and its critical role in fueling our state’s economic engine. We also think that the port should take advantage of the wisdom in using the Columbus Street Terminal for hosting all cruise ship traffic; this is the central point of the controversy.” So why is the terminal location so important? The Mercury tells us:

“The Union Pier property is worth hundreds of millions of dollars, and it abuts a vibrant residential and commercial neighborhood that needs prime waterfront for expansion. This will improve the viewshed for nearby residents and visitors. The area around Morrison Drive and the Columbus Street Terminal can flourish together for the long term. Union Pier, as a host for cruise ships, will remain an eyesore and political albatross for the city of Charleston. We realize that the State Ports Authority’s plan for Union Pier is far better than what exists now, but it will not satisfy the citizens of Charleston or its key legislators.”(1) The Mercury understands what the mayor should but doesn’t. First, any limiting regulations on cruise ships, even were they forthcoming, could be changed, so moving potentially intense cruise traffic away from downtown offers the only long-term protection for our fragile historic districts. Second, this precious, underdeveloped 63-acre Union Pier tract presents the last opportunity to geographically expand downtown Charleston along the waterfront. Charleston’s unique moment to design and develop a small-street neighborhood with shops, restaurants, offices, civic buildings, residences and waterfront parks, all accessible to the public–not to mention the hundreds of permanent jobs it will create–can never, ever happen again!

Embarking cruise ship passengers on home-ported ships like the Carnival Fantasy must venture downtown, creating congestion and confusion, just to sail away and spend their money elsewhere! They’re beginning a week’s vacation, and these cruise ship passengers aren’t stupid. They’ve already paid for their food and berths, and they know that during their upcoming vacation week, they will have ample time to browse shops and foreign markets, gamble, go on excursions, buy exotic gifts, enjoy spa treatments, sunset cocktails… There’s no rational reason to spend money here before their vacation begins, and that’s why they spend so little. Then why bring cruise congestion and traffic downtown when the passengers and the city would be better off if embarking/disembarking tourists had easier access to major highways away from downtown? The common-sense reasons for using Columbus Street or Patriots Point(2) for a cruise terminal–near those highways–is undeniable.

But real issues aren’t the topics that SPA, it’s expensive PR agency or supporters want you to think about. Rather than talk about pollution, managing tourist impacts on historic districts, noise or congestion, we’re treated to this stuff: “The cruise ships themselves are quite awe-inspiring, and rather than detracting from the city they emphasize what the city was originally founded on, a natural harbor.”(3) “Awe-inspiring”? Has this guy seen the Fantasy? It doesn’t matter to him, because from where he lives, he can’t see any cruise ship, or Russia, from his house. Take another letter-to-the-editor from Mt. Pleasant, titled “Undermining Port.” It deliberately conflates cruise ship tourism with cargo shipping: “I am amazed, with our high unemployment, that there should be such animosity to cruise ships and their economic benefit…. “The executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority noted that Savannah is already a much greater port than Charleston. The Georgia ports support 295,000 jobs, $2.6 billion in state and local taxes.”(4) Conflate, combine, confuse–that’s the SPA’s strategy. Of course, the issue is NOT about Charleston’s history as a port, a “natural harbor,” or cargo shipping. We know that the SPA has hundreds of acres of underutilized port facilities, we know that Charleston is trying to get federal funds to dredge Charleston’s harbor, and we know that the port is trying to increase cargo shipping. Everyone favors the dredging, the expansion of port commerce, and more jobs. But cruise ship pollution and cruise passenger impacts on land are a totally separate issue. Thus we all should know that creating enforceable limits on cruise ship tourism–the same limits SPA itself proposed but won’t formalize–wouldn’t impact any other port activity. But dealing in facts is not a high priority for the SPA.

Why is the SPA’s master marketing plan to charge everyone asking for reasonable cruise ship tourism limits with attacking the port itself? Maybe the SPA believes that bamboozling the longshoremen and powerful cargo shippers is the only way to maintain the political cover it needs to confront and confuse the state legislature. But if the longshoremen and container ship operators ever figure out this cruise ship controversy isn’t about them, SPA officials holding their transparently flimsy assertions will be exposed. There’s every reason to limit cruise ship tourism–when all other tourism in Charleston is regulated. SPA officials know there should be limits. They know that cruise ships burn dangerous, low-grade bunker fuel in port that spews dangerous, unhealthy soot. They may know that any cruise terminal would be better were it located away from Union Pier. And they certainly know that they have failed to perform their mandated requirement to study other cruise terminal locations or “consider quality of life impacts of its operations.”(5) Yet, in spite of the facts, the SPA continues to conflate, combine, and confuse hoping the state legislature won’t catch on.

The Mercury asks its readers to look beyond the aesthetics and the environment to what’s economically best for the SPA and the City of Charleston: “The economic value of the Union Pier property speaks loudly; it yells on its merits; it screams best use; it oozes opportunity; and it cries for another path to solving the dispute. The central players need to find a way to sit down and agree that they will all benefit by seeking the best financial deal for the citizens of Charleston, the port and the city.” That “best financial deal” is the one that will also best preserve and protect the historic fabric of the city–the main engine for tourism which, in turn, is the main driver of our economy. But will the SPA sit down and help create a solution?

Sen. Chip Campsen recently wrote, “Economic development and quality of life are not mutually exclusive. Properly balanced, they are synergistic.”


1) “Are Cruise Ship Solutions Close at Hand?” – Charleston Mercury
2) “Cruise Solution” letter to the editor – P&C
3) “Keep Cruises” letter to the editor – P&C
4) “Undermining Port” letter to the editor – P&C
5) “SPA Must Weigh Cruises Impacts on Quality of Life” – Sen. Chip Campsen

In My Dream

Good afternoon,

In my dream, I walked into the City Council meeting just as the mayor began to speak. “This great city was built on achieving a balance between business, industry, and tourism and historic preservation, the enhancement of our unique neighborhoods, and protecting Charleston’s famous quality-of-life for its citizens. I have proven to you that this can be done. It requires thoughtful, visionary planning and thoughtful regulation to encourage or discourage development, depending on where it is proposed, to balance future prosperity and protect our quality of life. Prosperity and livability are not mutually exclusive; they go hand-in-hand. Ladies and gentlemen, Charleston has a breathtaking opportunity, an opportunity that no other city either has or will ever have again! It is an opportunity so big, so immense, so life-changing for the future of Charleston, that we must make it happen for us, for our children, for the future of Charleston so that her greatest days will be the future, surpassing Charleston’s most glorious past.

Sensing the crowd’s growing excitement, the mayor continued, “At the edge of our historic downtown is a 65-acre undeveloped parcel of pristine waterfront land! It’s now a derelict wasteland, wire fences, broken asphalt, rotting structures. But imagine it’s value! No other great city anywhere has such a large, undeveloped tract so close to the the heart of the city–and this is waterfront land! Boston was the last great city to have such an opportunity–and they took it. Boston transformed acres of ‘low-rent warehouses, rotting wharves, and windswept parking lots’ along its waterfront into an explosive, exciting, innovative, invigorating expansion of downtown. It began fifteen years ago there, when a forest of cranes filled the skyline at the harbors edge, and the bustling of construction workers was a testament to this opportunity that has completely revitalized Boston. Media and financial companies, law firms, advertising agencies, artists and craftspeople all moved into this new living-working neighborhood that then attracted stores and local shops, restaurants, bistros, residences and hotels. The job growth has been immense, the tax revenues skyrocketed — Bostonians seized their opportunity, and the resulting financial and job growth has been estimated in the billions, not millions!(1) And they’re not done!” The crowd was mesmerized. “We must do the same here! Privately develop all of Union Pier as Boston developed Fan Pier. That would generate more new jobs than we’ve ever created in Charleston. We will build our own new city, expand our downtown, enrich Charleston with an unrivaled tapestry of development, parks and public places just steps from historic downtown. And we could do what Boston did, locate the cruise terminal at the far edge of the city, at the Columbus Street Terminal, which will allow cruise travelers easy on/off access to major roads, avoiding congestion and confusion, when they arrive here or leave to visit plantations, the Patriot’s Point memorial, come downtown or see other Lowcountry attractions. Plus, the much unused and less valuable Columbus Street Terminal, twice the size of Union Pier, will provide acres of parking without blocking or compromising downtown waterfront land. This puts the right type of development in the right place–that’s how you achieve a balance in a great small city like Charleston. It’s a win-win-win. The workers win who develop the entire Union Pier property over the years as well as those who stay and run the many offices, shops, restaurants, hotels and live in the residences, jobs that are now nonexistent. The cruise operators and longshoremen that move to the unused portion of Columbus Street win because jobs will not only be maintained but likely expanded at this larger property. And your City wins by expanding its tax base, generating new revenues, critical in these hard times with increasing expenses and so much to do. The derelict Union Pier is our city’s ‘last frontier’! This is our great opportunity; let’s seize the moment.”

But the mayor didn’t say any of that. Instead, it turns out, he castigated proponents of regulations on cruise ships that would be similar to regulations on every other tourist industry. Mayor Riley previously, infamously portrayed proponents of balance and regulation as “a tiny, radical fringe.” The Post and Courier responded to the mayor, calling that remark “a novel characterization of those, including many downtown residents, who have the temerity to disagree with his position on the matter. Actually, they are people who live and work on the peninsula and who are concerned that the balance between the city’s tourism economy and residential livability is tipping out of kilter.”(2) But his week, the mayor outdid himself with another broadside, “The most distasteful thing about this is the class thing. That’s the elephant in the room—like people who take cruises on cruise ships aren’t good enough.” The P&C responded to that, too: “…if there is anything elephantine in this issue, it’s the cruise ships themselves. There is an apprehension that without legal limits that there will come a time when the cruise ships calling on Charleston will be bigger and there will be more of them. Certainly the city of Charleston hasn’t demonstrated any reluctance to regulate other areas of the tourism industry.”

There’s a damn good reason for “an apprehension.” The real elephantine problem is highlighted in USA Today’s travel section, “Cruise ships are getting bigger — with more passengers on board than ever. Royal Caribbean’s 9-month-old Allure of the Seas can carry more than 6,000 people — nearly twice as many as the largest ships a decade ago.”(3) Ships, like planes, are getting bigger and bigger, and the soon-to-be widened Panama Canal will stimulate the construction of far larger ships in the years to come. And even if all these cruise passengers disembarked wearing tuxedos and evening gowns, the impact, congestion, confusion, and stress on limited facilities (bathrooms, etc.) in Charleston’s small, constricted downtown and residential areas would degrade the Charleston experience for residents and visitors alike. Tourists coming here are not asking to be taken to the Citadel Mall; it’s downtown and the historic districts that tourists come to see, and it’s that destination that needs to be protected from unbridled tourism. The real Mayor Riley, if he’s still there somewhere, surely realizes the damage unrestrained tourism will bring, yet he has decided to ignore reality.

The Charleston News Alternative attacks “The Class Thing” head-on. “Who, and when, did any of the opponents of unregulated cruise ship activity, use ‘a class thing’ as an argument or a reason to impose standards? Does anyone have knowledge of this as an argument used by any of the environmental groups or neighborhood associations?” The News Alternative observes, “When the [Historic Charleston] Foundation held a forum to discuss the issue, signs reading “Jobs Not Snobs” appeared, although nothing advocated by any group appears to hurt jobs in any way. When a group of certain businessmen organized to support unregulated cruise ships, used their initial rally, not just to offer support, but to demean those for controls.” The commentary continues, “It appears that the origins of the claim being vague, continued rebroadcasting of them have come from those who seek to impose unregulated cruise ships on the city. That includes the mayor. It also includes SPA which has plenty of money to spend on public relations including negative ones,” adding, “Rather than discussing the issues, one side has taken to name calling and slurs. Most people would find this ‘distasteful.'”

The Charleston News Alternative concludes, “The mayor of what has been called ‘America’s Friendliest City’ could take the lead in restoring civility rather than pillorying its citizens. Meanwhile, the public has every reason to believe that more than promised 3,500-passenger or larger ships will be heading towards Charleston.” Publisher Bryan Harrison’s commentary is worth reading.(link 4 below)

Thirty years from now, today’s unparalleled chance to fully develop Union Pier and move the cruise terminal elsewhere will have been seen as Charleston’s greatest opportunity for future prosperity. Yet there’s little time remaining before the mayor and the SPA squander that chance forever.


Credit: Publius & Allen 2001

1) Boston Waterfront – Boston Globe, 1998

2) The Council Cruises Off Course – P&C editorial

3) How to Pick the Perfect Cruise – USA Today Travel

4) The “Class Thing” and more ships to come – Charleston News Alternative

The SPA’s “Defiant”

The SPA’s “Defiant” is headed into heavy seas. Yet the SPA ship is staying the course–the we’re going to do what we want, with no limits, no compromise, and we’ll-put-an-ugly-building-downtown-anyway course. Will these rougher waters cause the “Defiant’s” top officers to rethink her direction? Ah, no. Let’s look at one example.

The Post and Courier’s Robert Behre reported “At least seven other U.S. ports provide some electrical connection for cruise ships to plug into while in port, leading to cleaner air –at least in the area immediately around the docks.”(1) So what about Charleston? “But no such shore power is in the works here as the State Ports Authority plans to build a new $30 million cruise ship passenger terminal.” Nope. And that’s in spite of the fact that cruise lines burn low grade diesel fuel, fuel that is so dirty with dangerous pollutants, that it isn’t permitted to be burned on land in the U.S. And unlike a cargo ship, cruise ships burn this dirty fuel the entire time they are in port as it’s necessary to constantly power the ship’s restaurants, spas, shops, bars, air conditioning and lighting. Even Brooklyn requires shore side plug in power!

So wouldn’t pollution free, shoreside plug-in power be a good idea, at the very least for the Carnival “Fantasy,” the cruise ship that is home-ported downtown? SPA spokesman Byron Miller has that answer: “It’s a nice bumper sticker, but from a practical standpoint, it’s simply not required or justifiable,” he [Miller] said. “Maybe if the Conservation League wants to subsidize it, we can make it happen.” We could be wrong, but did the “Conservation League” issue $177 million in bonds as the SPA has? Or did the “Conservation League” make the same $200 million in the last quarter that Carnival Cruise Lines made? Oh, and did you notice Miller’s comment that “it’s simply not required.” But our mayor says, “these are our people, for crying out loud!” His people, maybe, but not “our people.”

Meanwhile, the SPA’s “Defiant” is running at full-speed, driving through the waves, blazing her guns whenever challenged to smoke over the issues and frighten the timid.

But those seas are beginning to boil and churn as the SPA’s “Defiant” sails farther from its supply lines, and some of its crew appear to be jumping off. Senator Robert Ford challenged the SPA openly in the P&C and called for moving the cruise terminal away from downtown and up to the Columbus Street Terminal (2) before clambering back, all after virtually calling it a rogue agency. Then came Senator Chip Campsen, who comes from a maritime family, saying responsible things like, “this doesn’t mean all other considerations must bow before the port” and “economic development and quality of life are not mutually exclusive. Properly balanced, they are synergistic.” Campsen warns, “look no farther than the industrial Midwest and Northeast, where quality of life was often sacrificed on the altar of economic development” before he notes the decline in fortunes for many cities and towns in the North because people are coming to places that “balance economic development and quality of life” like Charleston.(3) Sen. Campsen recommends that “the feasibility of utilizing part of the Columbus Street Terminal for cruise ships should be studied. This would spur redevelopment on Morrison Drive, mollify cruise ship traffic problems, and free more of Union Pier for redevelopment.” And “as long a Union Pier is utilized for cruise ships, something akin to the Historic Charleston Foundation’s proposed ordinance should become binding upon the Port. This should be doable since all parties publicly support a 104 cruise per year limit…” Can these limits become legally binding? Campsen says, “S.C. Code §6-29-770(A) empowers Charleston to address the matter through zoning. And it certainly can be accomplished by contract or legislation.”

Then in today’s Post and Courier, Sen. Chip Limehouse hailed the SPA’s “Defiant”: “As a member of the Charleston Legislative Delegation I would like to urge the South Carolina State Ports Authority to explore the possibility of alternative locations for the new cruise terminal. Several options exist and should be reviewed, such as utilizing Patriot Point’s campus, where a water taxi system could take guests off the roads and instead transport them via the Charleston Harbor.” This was also the theme in a recent article by historian/author Jack Bass.(4) Sen. Limehouse also uncovered another secret that neither the SPA nor the mayor want you to know, “From conversations with merchants it appears that spending associated with cruise passengers is too modest to justify the negative impact on downtown residents and businesses,” and cites “the constant congestion” and “problems caused by bringing passengers to crowded downtown areas to board cruise ships.”(5)

Today’s Post and Courier editorialized about tonight’s important City Council meeting, calling the pending ordinance “inadequate.” The paper suggests adopting the Historic Charleston Foundation’s recommendations for cruise ship controls adding, “Without the city’s beauty, charm and culture, the city’s main industry — tourism — would be compromised. And Charleston residents’ quality of life would be diminished.”(6)

But this writer has a larger concern. The mayor and SPA’s “Defiant’s” defiance have successfully disregarded all attempts at regulation. And no matter what regulations are passed, or by whom, couldn’t they be changed? Of course. A $30-billion-a-year cruise ship industry can lobby for whatever it wants. Even now, the SPA “Defiant” has been riding the waves, blazing its guns, blasting critics, and avoiding restraints as if it were sailing in international waters, not operating on land in Charleston. So how can “regulations” alone protect Charleston? They cannot. That’s why the cruise ship terminal MUST be moved to Columbus Street, Patriots Point, or North Charleston. With the terminal farther from downtown, if or when those cruise ship limits are broken 20 years from now, the “golden goose” of tourism and prosperity, centered in our charming downtown and fragile historic district, won’t be destroyed. Charleston does not need another long dark economic chapter in its history–certainly not one that would be self-inflicted.

As Chip Limehouse said, “the sale of the entire 70 acres constituting the Union Pier Terminal could generate twice the jobs and future tax revenue as the existing plan to develop one-half of that property. At the same time, it would provide more public access to the waterfront. Many of our citizens are asking that we sit down and look at the preferable alternatives that currently exist before taking a rigid stance one way or the other. I ask that SPA and our city administrators take the necessary time to re-evaluate all options before making a decision that will affect generations to come.” You should ask for the same tonight.


About tonight. Harold Pratt-Thomas, a board member of the Charleston Communities for Cruise Control, C4, plans to speak at tonight’s City Council Meeting. Without his permission, I am going to publish something similar to what he may say because I believe it’s what I would say:

I am Harold Pratt-Thomas, and I am a board member of the Charleston Communities for Cruise Control.

We would like to thank Mayor Riley for tackling the problems of cruise ship tourism with an ordinance, an ordinance that acknowledges the SPA’s “voluntary limits” on the size and number of visits of cruise ships in Charleston and attempts to put a plan in place to notify the public of any changes in these limits. But this ordinance has no teeth and does not limit cruise ship tourism in any way.

Thus we must agree with the Post and Courier, the Historic Charleston Foundation, the Preservation Society, the Charleston Mercury and others that this ordinance is both ineffective and inadequate. It isn’t what the businesses and residents of Charleston, Mayor Riley and the City Council’s own constituents, need. All of us are impacted by the disgorging of cruise ship tourists so close to downtown and the historic district. Most importantly, given the increasing size of cruise ships envisioned by the widening of the Panama Canal, protecting Charleston’s historic fabric and ambiance–our “golden goose” and the biggest draw for tourism and tourism dollars, is threatened.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation–sensing these same critical issues and projecting this reality into the future–has placed Charleston on its “Watch List,” a new, unfortunate designation we must remedy.

We need four things: 1) Table this ineffective ordinance tonight. 2) In its place, we must put legally binding limits on cruise ship tourism in line with those proposed by the Historic Charleston Foundation. 3) Mandate Shore side plug-in power at the terminal–it is already used by the U.S. Navy and by Carnival ships in other ports to protect against dangerous ship diesel emissions and soot. And, 4) the City should ask the Legislature to conduct the required study of other locations for a cruise ship terminal, especially the Columbus Street Terminal. A cruise terminal does not have to be nor should it be in historic downtown, an area constricted geographically, already congested, and with limited resources for tourism (few bathrooms, etc.) These four items are reasonable, rational, and necessary now. Let’s get this done.

Footnotes and links to articles:

1) Cruise Foes, Port in Power Struggle – Robt. Behre

2) Cruise to Prosperity on the East Side – Sen. Ford

3) SPA must weigh cruises’ impacts – Sen. Campsen

4) Cruise Solution: Patriot’s Point – Jack Bass

5) Evaluate All Cruise Terminal Options – Sen. Limehouse

6) Get City off “Watch List” – P&C editorial

Senator Ford Reverses

Good afternoon,

Senator Ford has reversed his position (1). But, why?

In a thoughtful, well-reasoned Post and Courier commentary just last week, Sen. Robert Ford highlighted the many benefits of moving cruise ship operations from Union Pier up to the larger Columbus Street terminal. Such a move would take traffic off East Bay Street, would economically benefit the East Side, would provide more jobs if Union Pier privately developed, would retain all the port jobs, would reduce impacts on the historic district, etc. In addition, the 155-acre Columbus Street terminal will provide more parking and more of a geographic shield to neighboring areas from negative impacts than the smaller 65-acre Union Pier site would be able to shield downtown and Ansonborough. We and others praised the suggestion, and if you have not read his op-ed, you must (2).

Now Sen. Ford has made a U turn: “Constituents read me the riot act.” Really? If his constituents did protest, what horrible slate of evils were they told or sold to make them so negative? Who told them? What problems with a cruise terminal at Columbus Street are there that could cause such a quick, negative reaction, a reaction so powerful as to force Sen. Ford to reverse his well-ascribed suggestion? Or was it something else?

Consider this. Whoever put such intense pressure on Sen. Ford cannot pretend that whatever problems that might arise at Columbus Street won’t also exist at Union Pier–a site where we’re told by the SPA and the City that has no problems. But if it’s not good for the East Side, how can it be good for downtown and Ansonborough?

Is there more in play than meets the eye? While the responses and reactions to Sen. Ford’s original article were almost all positive, the operative word here is “almost.” Take this letter, from Jim Newsome of the State Ports Authority, fired off to Sen. Ford immediately after his original commentary was published. Don’t just read the content, note the tone of this letter.

If you were a state employee, as is Newsome, would you have written that letter to a state senator?

Ford reacted, “He was completely out of order. I think Mr. Newsome needs to learn that he needs to respect all members of the General Assembly.” Newsome replied to the Post and Courier, “If he took offense, I certainly apologize.” But what recipient of such a letter could not be offended?(3) Does Mr. Newsome believe he’s invulnerable?

The SPA and the City can’t have it both ways. If the cruise terminal does provide an economic benefit, as its proponents claim, that benefit is far more needed on the East Side. Then when do we have the discussion–the one about the best cruise terminal location–the one that was never held or studied by the SPA, as is required by law (as Sen. Ford had pointed out)? Nothing should happen at Union Pier until, at the SPA’s expense, an independent firm selected by the legislature conducts a full, transparent study of all potential cruise ship terminal locations.


1) Sen. Ford’s statement, “A Change of Heart”

2) Cruise toward Prosperity on the East Side – Sen. Robt. Ford

3) Sen. Ford Reverses on Cruise Terminal – David Slade

(even in a new Age of Reason) Not all are Reasonable

“Prior to this year’s rebound, SPA container volume had declined each year for five years.”  SC Ports Authority President & CEO James “Newsome, whose salary is $300,000, will get a $61,000 bonus.” Post and Courier, 17 Aug 2011(1)

Good afternoon,

Reactions to Senator Robert Ford’s Post and Courier commentary on the growth of the cruise ship industry in Charleston were positive and thoughtful. The senator’s presentation of the facts and his proposed solutions stand as an impressive benchmark in the dialogue. The need for balance is clear: How can Charleston best handle the growth of tourism from ever-larger cruise ships, protect port and cruise industry jobs, and continue to preserve and protect our city’s fragile historic fabric, community and quality of life that is the main draw for this tourism? Senator Ford’s suggestions do that, and more.

Unfortunately, none of the reactions from the SC Ports Authority were were positive or thoughtful. The same tiresome stonewalling, delivered in ringside bravado, continues.

Senator Ford, after following the cruise ship discussion, noting the traffic and congestion, and with his concern about more government expansion south of Calhoun Street said, “I have taken many cruises myself. I know that cruise terminals are not located in residential areas, but away from such areas where their negative impacts are felt less by residents. I support moving the proposed new cruise terminal to the northern end of the Columbus Street Terminal near the Ravenel Bridge. There is ample space there and a warehouse as suitable for a cruise terminal as the one proposed at Union Pier.” He makes other important observations: “Such a relocation of the planned cruise terminal should end the current litigation and prevent future complaints from residents and preservation groups,” and adds, “Indeed, cruise operations could expand at that location without impacting residents and businesses. Longshoremen and other maritime jobs would be better protected and indeed could increase beyond the voluntary limits on cruise activity imposed by the SPA at Union Pier.”

Ford notes that a cruise entrance off Morrison Drive would be an “incentive for economic development,” highlights the benefits of private development that could then occur at Union Pier (which would produce hundreds more permanent jobs), and underlines the vast amount of public dock and space that could be created at Union Pier were the cruise terminal moved north. There is more to this cogent commentary that you should read for yourself(2), link below.

The SPA’s reaction? In a personal letter to Senator Ford, dated August 26, President and CEO James Newsome wrote, “…I read your op-ed in the Post and Courier yesterday which seems to reflect your strident opposition to our cruise terminal project (over 400 according to an independent survey). With respect, I frankly find this both disappointing and confusing.” And then, in the next paragraph, Mr. Newsome shows his total lack of respect: “Accordingly, I assume that the requested meeting on Sept. 7 is no longer necessary and will remove it from my calendar. Please notify my office if you would still like to meet.”(6) Setting aside the arrogance, Mr. Newsome knows that the number of port jobs would not change, and would likely increase, if the cruise terminal were moved up to Columbus Street or other location. But focusing on facts is not one of Mr. Newsome’s strong points. Perhaps he was reacting to another salient item in Mr. Ford’s commentary:

“I was astonished to learn that SPA officials told experts employed to site the new cruise terminal to look only at Union Pier. The experts did not even consider the alternative location at the northern end of Columbus Street Terminal. SPA officials have obviously failed to address the negative impacts on local residents despite being required to do so by state law. The legitimate concerns of local residents should be the top priority of the SPA Board, not rubber-stamping efforts by SPA officials to hold onto their real estate holdings in Charleston.”(2)

Moving to a somewhat related matter, citizens concerned about the City’s cavalier attitude to ignore cruise ship expansion have formed C4–the Charleston Communities for Cruise Control. Few had heard of this non-profit organization until it placed a large billboard on I-26 East (below) this week. The board was noticed, and it resulted in a TV coverage on Channel 2 and Channel 4.(3) And what was the SPA’s reaction to the billboard?

SPA spokesman Byron Miller responded with predictably diversionary rhetoric, “This is certainly not southern hospitality. It sends a nasty message to visiting tourists and business people looking to spend money and create jobs in Charleston. It paints Charleston as unfriendly to visitors and business. To tell people coming down 26 this is an anti-business and anti-tourist place is not Charleston…” But C4’s goals are not terribly dissimilar to other responsible community organizations like the Preservation Society or the Historic Charleston Foundation; in fact, C4’s goals are in almost perfect alignment with those of Senator Ford’s. Reasonable but enforceable limits on cruise ship visits (the same as the “voluntary limits” proposed by the SPA itself), shoreside plug-in power to limit pollution, and moving the cruise terminal to Columbus Street to allow for more tourists yet with fewer impacts downtown and in the historic district. [full disclosure: this writer is on the board of C4; however, this blog is entirely independent of any organization, and nothing said here should be considered as representative of the position(s) of C4 or any of its other members.](4)

Commenting from farther South, and published in the Post and Courier, Historic Savannah Foundation’s president Daniel Carey wrote, “Each year, Charleston and Savannah absorb millions of visitors while trying to maintain a delicate balance for those who live in and steward our historic districts. Unregulated cruise ships disgorging thousands of visitors (and effluent) tips that balance and jeopardizes the humane and urbane quality of life that makes our historic cities so envied.” Carey continued, “So when professionals and volunteers of these organizations do their homework and put forth reasonable measures to limit negative impacts to our fragile historic cities so they can retain their integrity, charm and character, I am dismayed when those recommendations are dismissed with such disdain. Above all, Mayor Riley (‘the best preservation mayor in the country’) should understand and support that cruise ships — like any other tour related enterprise — need regulation from local interests.” He concludes, “Savannah has learned a lot from Charleston. But if bowing to cruise ships goes unchecked, then that’s a lesson we should ignore.”(5)

Yet to protect Charleston’s future, win-win solutions to manage cruise ship growth must be found, and that will require dialogue with key players. Please encourage Sen. Robert Ford and other legislators to rein in the SPA. To have this dialogue, it must be remade into a responsible state agency that’s responsive to legitimate public concerns. That’s not the case now. –Jay

1) Container Traffic, Port Revenues Up

2) Cruise Toward Prosperity on the East Side – Sen. Robt. Ford

3) Cruise Control? Port Authority Officials say billboard is bad for business. Channel 4 video

4) Charleston Committee for Cruise Control website link

5) “Listen to Cruise Ship Critics”

6) Letter from James Newsome III to Sen. Robert Ford