“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