“Groundhog Day”

When last we wrote, we quoted one Bruce Smith in his letter to the Post and Courier. Mr. Smith took a fresh, long term-look at Charleston’s future and the cruise ship terminal issue: “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 noted 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.”(1)

So with a new year, the mayor’s 10th inaugural signaled a fresh, new approach to the cruise terminal debate…right? No. P&C columnist Brian Hicks, in a fawning article about Mayor Riley, wrote, “He took a shot at cruise ship opponents — hey, it wouldn’t be the mayor if he wasn’t a little snarky — by declaring that this a working city, not a gated community. It’s a place where at any given moment you might hear ‘the announcement from the Coast Guard station; or on another part of the peninsula, ships arriving or embarking; fire engines …'”(2) So the lingering problems of the fire department (3), the police department (4), the Crosstown (5,6), the cruise ship terminal…continue. New year, same old stuff.

No worries. There are more problems. The State Ports Authority (SPA) is apparently trying to figure out how “[t]he Port of Savannah has leapfrogged ahead of Charleston to become one of the nation’s busiest ports, and some fear that deepening the Savannah River could tip the scales further in Georgia’s favor.” One clue might be that the Georgia ports authority found out that the Panama Canal was going to be widened; perhaps that was a story that the SPA missed, because “while Savannah’s [permitting process] began in 1996 and is due for a final decision next year… “Charleston’s proposed deepening is at the beginning of a multiyear study process.”(7) Does anyone wonder why Charleston waited so long to start its permitting process? Is anyone asking that question?

Here’s another question. In its battle with Savannah, “The State Ports Authority is campaigning for the federal government to study the relative merits of all Southeastern ports (particularly Charleston vs. Savannah) regarding post-Panamax dredging.”(8) That’s a great idea. Look at the two sites, have a third party compare them using objective criteria, and determine which one is better. An objective, merit-based study. So why, then, is the SPA stonewalling against a similar study to compare different sites for a new Charleston Cruise terminal? When the SPA is battling against Savannah, it wants an impartial study. But when the SPA has a compliant mayor, an emasculated City Council, and an uninvolved state legislature (except for good efforts of Senators Chip Campsen and Chip Limehouse), the SPA chooses to avoid a much needed, objective, merit-based study to determine the best location for a cruise ship terminal. No problem. No one loses here except the people and future of Charleston.

That’s not all. As the Charlestowne Neighborhood Association’s Randy Pelzer wrote in an Post and Courier op-ed, the SPA charges that Georgia’s dredging project inadequately addresses the environmental issues of depleted oxygen levels that would endanger fish and water quality in the Savannah River. But isn’t this the same SPA that’s objecting to an environmentally-friendly shore-side power requirement for cruise ships in the face of the toxic, bunker-fuel pollution that drifts and drops across the City of Charleston every time a cruise ship is in port? So when it comes to choosing the best location for a Charleston cruise terminal, or protecting Charleston’s air quality from noxious soot and pollutants, Randy Pelzer concludes: “A merit-based study is right for the dredging issue. And it is right for the SPA cruise terminal.”

The problems are so obvious at Union Pier, that no fewer than six different Charleston neighborhood, environmental, and historic organizations that have studied the issue have called for “for an independent study of the location the State Ports Authority has chosen for a new cruise passenger terminal.”(9)

But 2012 is likely to be 2011 or 2010 all over again. The longest serving mayor in America has gotten another four-year term. And the SPA’s CEO was just awarded a new seven-year, $350,000 a-year contract (not including bonuses).(10)

One final question. Was it our mayor or the SPA CEO who said, “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…we all know and agree [on what] would be the best solution for the next 100 years, not the next five.”(1) It was neither of them. It was letter-writer Bruce Smith.

–Jay

 
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1) “No Deals” – letter to the P&C
2) Hicks Column: Riley’s City Already a Great One – P&C
3) “The Same Mistakes…” BuildingsonFire . com
4) Memo told Police Officers to Hide Key Crime Details – P&C
5) How the City Plans to Fix the Crosstown – P&C
6) “Crosstown Canal” – letter to the editor, P&C
7) “What’s at Stake with Savannah Dredging” – P&C
8) “SPA Should Extend its Fair Study Criteria to Cruise Terminal” – Randy Pelzer
9) “Groups Call for Terminal Study” P&C
10) SPA Chief gets $50,000 raise, 7-Year Contract” – P&C
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