Imagine that you won last week’s mayoral election and,
with clear, fresh eyes, you had the opportunity to make Charleston an even
better, more livable city than it is.  Bruce Smith, in a letter to the Post
and Courier
, takes this fresh approach:  “Anyone who is willing to tolerate
the [cruise] ships, given their druthers and a clean slate would never allow
them to dock in downtown Charleston.   They will have learned from many other
ports that placement of a terminal slightly removed from the hub of economic
activity and the center of tourism with frequent and free transport to and from
the center of town would be ideal.”  He notes that, “Harbors were never in the
‘center’ of town, even in Charleston, but on the periphery, to avoid all the
detrimental impacts they create… “We have a chance to do it anew, either north
or east of the city’s center, the way our founders would have chosen.”

Mr. Smith suggests that while the economics of the
industry are “attractive,” “our public persona and the quality of our lives
should never be sacrificed…  “Why would anyone think the use of an old
warehouse and a huge parking lot would be a smart decision?   We shouldn’t cut
any deal with the SPA until it is exactly what we all know and agree would be
the best solution for the next 100 years, not the next five.  On Nov. 2 the
Fantasy was departing, and I could hear every one of the 35 “chimes” and
announcements between 3-4 p.m.  I am nine blocks from the terminal.”(1)

Mr. Smith’s letter implies a fundamental question: “Why
some are wedded to the current and proposed situation is beyond comprehension.”

The answer is that the “go along, get along” mentality of
our public officials is easier than working to create the best solution for the
next 100 years.  And that old way of doing things is steaming ahead.

Last week, the State Ports Authority (SPA) fast-tracked
its “revised” terminal plan through the Board of Architectural Review (BAR) and
received preliminary approval.(2)  Of course almost any change to the original
warehouse design would have been an improvement.  The changes include replacing
a roll-down metal door with a folding door and making the bus loading area look
less like a loading dock; but those were changes that should have been in the
initial design given the various architects’ time, money spent, and “public
input,” but were omitted nonetheless.  In a halfhearted-defense of the BAR, the
problem here is more than the design of the terminal.  The bigger problem, as
Mr. Smith points out, is the actual placement of a cruise ship terminal so close
to downtown.

Artist rendering of “revised” terminal plan for Union Pier, provided by the SPA,
published in the Post and Courier.  Click to enlarge.

And the other issue is that people can only “envision”
the building itself, when the far more important problem will be the activity
surrounding this terminal.

So if this “revised” terminal design looks a lot like the
“original” design that we published last week, that’s because it is.  The design
is compromised because the SPA is determined to use an old warehouse as the
basis for its new warehouse-like terminal.  Starting fresh would require
extensive permitting and involve delays in construction.  And the SPA’s obvious
goal is to build its Trojan Horse inside the city walls before Charleston’s
residents wake up to what’s happened their city.  So a warehouse it will be.
Now here’s what really matters.  The terminal will be surrounded by 9 acres of
asphalt parking lots.  And likely fences and security people to keep
non-cruisers away; that will mean that most everyone will be blocked from
getting to the waterfront when the ships are in.  Plus the terminal area will
have accommodations for lots of busses, taxis, vans and carriages to take
cruisers hither and yon, perhaps it will even feature a cell-phone waiting area.
And it will have an 1800′ pier, enough for two cruise ships, not just the one
the SPA has promised us.

What people cannot see or hear now, and many can’t
envision in the near future, are the many provision trucks coming in and out,
the busses and taxis turning, the cars streaming in and parking across these
nine acres, the noise and soot from the ships themselves, or the increasing
masses of people that will be boarding and later disgorging into the various
conveyances and onto the downtown streets.  The “artists rendering” above shows
relaxing hues of a green and blue, but the reality will be less inviting.  What
it will be, of course, is the waterfront equivalent of an airport.  Actually, it
will be the equivalent of an airport, bus station, and vast parking lots
all-in-one.  And none of it will be on the City of Charleston tax rolls.

Yet the go along, get along mentality is so strong that
when the SPA released a completely inane public statement to the Post and
last week, few noticed.  In announcing that the Port of Charleston
will be transferring materials for a new nuclear plant, “[t]he SPA said it will
be handling about 24,000 tons of equipment bound for the V.C. Summer Nuclear
Station in Jenkinsville (northwest of Columbia), where South Carolina Electric
& Gas Co. and Santee Cooper plan to add two new reactors.”  That’s great.
The release added, “[t]he SPA said the deal underscores the need to keep the
Columbus Street yard as a pure cargo terminal.”  Why?   Because, according to
the article, shipments will begin in December and continue “for more than four
years” as “[a]n estimated 30 vessels will bring in the machinery and other
equipment, with some pieces weighing up to 700 tons, the SPA said.”(3)   Please,
dear reader, do the math.  Ignoring the fact that the SPA owns the huge
Wando-Welch and other terminals that could handle these shipments, or that the
Port of Charleston faces “huge challenges to grow its port,” according to the
SPA President Jim Newsome(4), the SPA is actually telling us that 7 ships a
year over the next four years
is the reason the underused Columbus Street
terminal can’t also be used for cruise ships!?  Seven ships a year!?

Aerial view of the 155-acre Columbus Street terminal with the
Ravenel Bridge in the background.
Columbus Street is more than double the size of Union Pier. P&C photo.
Click to enlarge.

Randy Pelzer, of the Charlestowne Neighborhood
Association’s cruise ship task force, challenged this illogical position.
Pelzer said that a cruise terminal would only use 20% of the Columbus Street
property and it would only be used on a part-time basis, so, “[i]t’s big enough
for both” (cruise and cargo traffic).  But that logic was summarily rebuffed by
SPA spokesman Byron Miller, who offered no data, evidence or rationale for his
terse response: “It’s needed for cargo.”

We note a second letter to the P&C. This is from
residents of Fripp Island who “are frequent visitors to the beautiful city of
Charleston.  We are aware of the prospect of cruise ships gaining more access to
the historic harbor, and are very distressed.  We know concerns have been
expressed by the Historic Charleston Foundation, the Preservation Society of
Charleston, two neighborhood associations, the World Monuments Fund, the
National Trust for Historic Preservation and numerous citizens, business groups,
taxpayers and others.”  They point out that “[d]espite this, the State Ports
Authority is going ahead with its plans for a cruise terminal with no deference
to these groups and individuals and their concerns about pollution, congestion,
stress on the historic fabric and livability of the city or studying other
locations for the cruise terminal itself.”(5)   They’re right.  The Holy City is
being deluded by bureaucrats, a sophisticated PR machine, and a void of
leadership into making a permanent, scarring sacrifice to its future quality of
life, a sacrifice made all the more illogical given the comment from the SPA’s
Jim Newsome that the cruise business is an important part of the port’s
diversification strategy, “but it will never be part of our growth

The letter from the residents of Fripp Island concludes,
“We join others in asking for help from the State Legislature to rein in the SPA
to make it responsive to its duty to weigh the negative impacts of its
operations, along with the potential positive ones, on residents and to be
responsible as a government agency to serve the people.”



1)  No Deals – letter to the P&C

2)  Cruise Ship Facility gets BAR nod – Post and Courier

3)  Port to handle Nuke Plant cargo – Post and Courier

4)  Port’s CEO:  Charleston’s Port must Grow – Charleston Business Journal

5)  Curtail Cruises – letter to P&C

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