Waves of Criticism

The un-listening mayor and the defiant Ports Authority were
pilloried in this week’s Charleston News Alternative.  A must-read front
page article, “The Cruise Ship Controversy: A Summary,” suggests that
“…Charlestonians need to ask questions to help determine if Mayor Joseph P.
Riley, Jr. and the officials at the State Ports Authority (SPA) have acted in
the best interests of all concerned.”  Explaining a number of cruise ship
issues, including zoning, pollution, the terminal “design,” the economics and
the politics of the controversy itself, publisher Bryan Harrison puts his finger
on two most critical:

“The city has reached an agreement with SPA that only two ships each week
can dock here, but the agreement is meaningless. There is nothing in writing,
but the Mayor continues to assure that such a codified agreement is
unnecessary.

For a man who has been in politics most of his adult life and
a mayor for 36 years, it is hard to believe that he can be this naive. Those in
favor of tighter controls don’t trust an agency they feel hasn’t listened to
them.”  The article continues:

“Perhaps the biggest controversy is the location. “…The SPA argues that it is
rescuing the area from blight. Yet, they are replacing an unseemly place with
pavement that could be used for other purposes. If the nine acres [of cruise
parking at Union Pier] could be developed for shops and restaurants, the city
would receive more revenue than it does from tourists whose usual purchases
consist of T-shirts and souvenirs.”  This comprehensive feature is something
that you should read (please see footnote link 1 below).

Another article, “Fixing Charleston’s Cruise Problems,” appears in CruiseMates.
The article says something that the SPA would rather you didn’t realize:
“Right now Carnival is boarding and disembarking passengers on these budget
five-day cruises in a cruise terminal that is just a few hundred yards from the
historic district.  It is important to note that the ship does not use the city as a
port of call with extensive tour offerings; it uses the city as a place for cruisers
to park their cars and board the ship.”  The article questions any benefit of
putting the terminal downtown.  “In fact, the city has a rule for dropping
off passengers that ‘walk ups are not permitted.’  Every passenger must arrive
in a vehicle, so there is no true benefit for the locals for having the port within
the downtown area.  “Once again, cruisers are not coming to Charleston for
sight-seeing; they are coming to board the ship.”
CruiseMates adds:  “In other words, the only thing the city is
experiencing every five days is a massive traffic jam in one of the most
historic, beautiful and vital residential areas in the entire United
States.”(2)

Historic Charleston Foundation’s president, Kitty Robinson, in a
Post and Courier op-ed, again calls for a “solid approach in advocating for
oversight of the landside impacts of the cruise ship industry.”  She specifically
counters one of the biggest lies now being foisted on the public:
“The Foundation’s proposed solution would not have a negative impact on
jobs or the State Ports Authority’s ability to promote economic development
for the state.”   All business is regulated; the SPA wants to be the exception.
The SPA’s continuing defiance is more than strange given that the Foundation’s
“solution” is based on the SPA’s own recommendations.  Ms. Robinson emphasizes
another fact: “This is not just a downtown issue. The continuing success of our
vital heritage tourism economy hinges on maintaining the quality and character
of downtown, and a thriving Charleston contributes significantly to an invigorated
regional economy.”(3)

This blog remains unpersuaded that regulation alone can protect Charleston.
Moving the terminal north, or away from Union Pier, is the only way to accomplish
that. The basis for this position is the city’s own submissive response to SPA and
the cruise industry, especially as the city could later arbitrarily lift any
restrictions that it might impose to still the controversy.  It’s also because
of the potential that financial temptations might arise from the asymmetrical
disparity between the City of Charleston and a behemoth, growing worldwide
$30-billion-a-year cruise industry.  Such a temptation may never occur and would
undoubtedly be perfectly legal if it did, but the opportunity to further the
cruise industry’s fortunes at the expense of the city’s quality-of-life and
preservation efforts would exist.

We come, finally, to the mayoral election.  The only reason we comment on it is
because of the city’s obeisance to the SPA.   The latest Charleston News
Alternative
editorial, endorsing Dudley Gregorie, says, “We are sure he
[Mayor Riley] believes he is doing the right thing for the city.  We just don’t
understand his political thinking.  Also, we don’t understand his inflexible position.
The people most affected by the harmful effects of the cruise ships have come to him
as their representative, and what they have requested can bring no economic harm
to the city.  Yet, he has been unyielding.”(4)  Today’s Post and Courier says,
“Most of the candidates expressed support for the cruise
industry, though [William Dudley] Gregorie said the city should do more to
enforce the cap on cruise ships that the State Ports Authority has agreed to,
while [David] Farrow said the new cruise terminal should be moved north.”(5)
We like Gregorie, too, but David Farrow has the right answer on this issue.
And, on this issue, either would be preferable to what we have now.

–Jay

1)  The Cruise Ship Controversy:  A Summary – Charleston News Alternative
2)  Fixing Charleston’s Cruise Problems – CruiseMate
3)  Preserve Heritage’s Tourism Appeal in our Living City – Post and Courier
4)  We Support – Charleston News Alternative
5)  Mayoral Hopefuls Tee Off on Riley – Post and Courier
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