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