Archive for April 2012

SPA thwarts efforts to pry info loose- an informative commentary by Katie Zimmerman.

State Ports Authority thwarts efforts to pry info loose, P&C, April 30, 2012, commentary, KATIE ZIMMERMAN. 

The Post and Courier’s recent series on the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) highlighted one of the most important, and least appreciated, characteristics of a free society — the ability ordinary citizens should have to learn, without filters, what government is doing for them and, potentially, to them. Reinforcing The Post and Courier’s findings, the State Integrity Assessment, a project of Public Radio International, the Center for Public Integrity and Global Integrity, gave South Carolina an “F” for government transparency.

As James Madison said two centuries ago, “A popular government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but prologue to a farce or a tragedy; or, perhaps, both.”

The Post and Courier’s series revealed that compliance with the Freedom of Information Act is troublingly inconsistent in South Carolina. We would like to offer some recent examples of our experiences attempting to obtain information from the South Carolina State Ports Authority (SPA). These instances reinforce the fact that our state is far from the open, transparent government that our country’s founders believed was essential to a healthy democracy.

The State Ports Authority has consistently argued that the proposed cruise ship terminal on Union Pier is the highest and best use for that property and that it has positive financial implications for the agency and for the public.

More than two years ago, we asked SPA director Jim Newsome for the documentation supporting that claim. Specifically, we asked for their projections of cruise ship revenues and expenses. Additionally, we asked for the analysis of alternative terminal sites the SPA claimed to have conducted. Months later, we received nothing in response.

Consequently, over the past two years we have submitted various FOIA requests detailing the information we would like to see. The information we have requested should help the public better understand the SPA’s decisions, and should also round out the debate on the costs and benefits of vastly increased cruise operations in Charleston.

On March 1, 2010, we asked for pro forma financial statements on the cruise ship terminal. On March 15, 2010, we requested the terminal construction schedule, and on May 7, 2010, in conjunction with the South Carolina Policy Council and the Charleston Mercury, we asked for contracts with cruise lines that visit Charleston, financial information on Union Pier cargo and cruise operations, lobbying expenses, payments to the Charleston Police Department and other information related to cruise operations.

The SPA told us much of the information we asked for was “privileged” and that they estimated that our fee would be $13,535 for the rest. (Part of the fee included research by the agency to determine what was privileged.) We subsequently reduced our request and resubmitted it. The agency again responded that much of the information was privileged and that they would not waive the fee. For the benefit of the public, this response is a serious problem — the SPA was refusing even to provide the year Carnival’s contract would end.

On Feb. 17, 2011, in conjunction with the Preservation Society of Charleston and the Southern Environmental Law Center, we made a similar, but further abbreviated, request for information about the Union Pier project.

The SPA’s response stated “most of the documents, unfortunately, are not maintained in a manner that is conducive to search by nonemployees, but require research and review of documents for responsiveness to the request, and assembly of responsive documents.” Further, they believed, some of the documents would end up being privileged anyway.

On July 25, 2011, after the SPA launched a publicity campaign designed to characterize citizens concerned about unmitigated cruise ships as “snobs” who were opposed to “jobs,” we asked for invoices from and communications with the SPA’s public relations’ firm, Rawle-Murdy.

The response we received was incomplete, and omitted a memo about a meeting between Jim Newsome, Mayor Joe Riley and Carnival Cruise Lines executives in Miami. We asked for, but have still not received, that document.

Regardless of one’s opinion about the wisdom of unregulated cruise activity in Charleston, it is indisputable that a public agency responsible for the wise investment of public funds has an obligation to justify, clearly and comprehensively, its decision to taxpayers.

At the very least, the agency should provide the documentation underlying its decisions and actions to interested citizens.

That is the simple premise behind the Freedom of Information Act.

It is unfortunate, and unacceptable, that the SPA does not recognize the central importance of transparency as we debate the future of the Port of Charleston.

Katie Zimmerman is project manager for the Coastal Conservation League.

Cruising back to reality- today’s first editorial in P&C: “…An independent economic analysis…passenger cruises using the port of Charleston do not create or sustain jobs.”

Cruising back to reality, Post and Courier, April 22, 2o12

Jobs, not snobs? Say “goodbye” to that snide slogan designed to promote the cruise industry in Charleston. An independent economic analysis of how cruises impact the local economy concludes that passenger cruises using the port of Charleston do not create or sustain jobs.

Further, the study says cruises do not inject as much money into the economy as has been proclaimed. Indeed, they might actually compete with local businesses instead of enhancing them.

And the report indicates the net affect of cruises calling on or embarking from Charleston might actually be a financial loss to the city, which provides related services.

The analysis, commissioned by Historic Charleston Foundation and performed by Miley & Associates of Columbia, finds that research being used by the S.C. State Ports Authority to justify doing business with Carnival and other cruise lines is faulty and incomplete.

For more than a year, local residents, preservationists and environmentalists have expressed considerable apprehension. On Wednesday, more than 100 attended a hearing by the Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management to protest plans for a new terminal because of potential damage by an unregulated cruise industry. They say the traffic, noise and pollution it causes have already compromised the livability for people who reside in, work in or visit downtown Charleston.

But they have been brushed aside as misguided “snobs” who expect Charleston to function like a gated community instead of a vibrant city. They have been reminded over and over that the industry is an economic boon to the city.

At the very least, this report should convince the city of Charleston to re-evaluate its support for an unrestricted cruise presence in Charleston — including its decision to join sides with Carnival as a defendant in a lawsuit calling for enforceable limits on the industry.

Part of that re-evaluation should include determining how much money the cruise industry costs the city in services and what its return on investment is — if any.

The Historic Charleston Foundation has wisely renewed its call for the city to impose restrictions on the size, number and frequency of cruise ships visiting Charleston.

In addition, it is asking the SPA to negotiate with Carnival to pay a reasonable passenger fee (see HCF Executive Director Katharine Robinson’s column on today’s Commentary page).

The fee could be used by the city to offset costs associated with the development of Union Pier property being vacated by the SPA. Such fees are not unusual in port cities.

The HCF is also taking a step in an even more controversial direction. It wants the data the SPA used to determine where to move the passenger terminal and its research on the impact of that terminal on neighborhoods and historic areas.

The SPA has indicated it did due diligence and that the site where the new terminal is to be built is the best place for it. Some contend a site farther from congested downtown Charleston would be better.

Miley and Associates suggests the city establish a commission to advise City Council on cruise-related issues and that it also be involved with negotiations between the cruise industry and the SPA.

The peninsula is “the goose that lays the gold eggs,” and the city should ensure it isn’t killed by uncontrolled cruise business.

A recent letter to the editor chided The Post and Courier for opposing cruise ships. We have not done that.

Like the HCF, Preservation Society of Charleston, Ansonborough and Charles Town neighborhood associations and Coastal Conservation League, we have called for enforceable restrictions to ensure that the cruise industry does not harm the delicate balance of Charleston or the environment.

Now, with authoritative data, the SPA and the city should acknowledge the wisdom of what residents have been saying and work together to protect the extraordinary place that is Charleston.

Miley study shows need to regulate cruise ships in Charleston: an op-ed in P&C from the executive director,Historic Charleston Foundation

Miley study shows need to regulate cruise ships in Charleston, P&C, April 21, 2012, KITTY ROBINSON of Historic Charleston Foundation. 

Since its founding in 1947, Historic Charleston Foundation has played a key role in guiding the preservation and development of Charleston and its historic environs. The Foundation’s initiatives have set the pace for national preservation strategies and shaped the creation of local, regional and national policies. The basis for these successful preservation initiatives is community-based collaboration; open and transparent dialogue; and objective research, data, and analysis.

In the fall of 2011, the Foundation commissioned Miley & Associates, Inc. to prepare an objective study of the economic impacts of the cruise industry on the City of Charleston, thus providing the community with fact-based statistics on which to make informed decisions.
Miley & Associates, Inc. is a well-known economic consulting firm in South Carolina and the author of other high profile economic impact reports. Harry W. Miley, Jr., Ph.D. is the founding principal of Miley & Associates, Inc. and has extensive experience in the public and private sectors. The Foundation-commissioned report prepared by Miley is titled The Cruise Industry in Charleston: A Clear Perspective.

Miley & Associates, Inc. conducted an impartial analysis of the impacts of the cruise industry on the City of Charleston. The analysis focuses on national trends in the cruise industry and on the macro-economic perspective of the impacts the cruise industry has on the Charleston area. The analysis provides an assessment of both the positive and negative impacts of the industry; including its short-term and long-term impacts on Charleston’s economy; and the quality-of-life for local residents and businesses as it relates to the historical, architectural and cultural character of the city.
The scope of the Miley report:
1) places the cruise industry in perspective by evaluating demographic and economic
trends of the City of Charleston as well as other port cities with cruise ship
operations,
2) reviews several existing economic impact studies of the cruise industry,
3) determines opportunity costs, local business benefits, and displacement of non-cruise
visitors, and
4) studies the quality-of-life impacts and provides recommendations for mitigation.

The recommendations in the report strive to successfully integrate the cruise industry in Charleston. Considering all recommendations within the objective analysis, the Foundation will remain an advocate for quality-of-life balance with the cruise industry by focusing on the following next steps:

1) Continue to advocate for the management and control of the cruise industry, in a manner similar to all other attractions and activities within the city. This includes enforceable regulations that seek to manage the cruise industry in a way that balances tourism, commerce and livability.
2) Suggest that the State Ports Authority negotiate with the cruise industry to impose a reasonable passenger fee to create an “Infrastructure Fund” which could offset the cost of improvements that will be required for the redevelopment of the southern portion of Union Pier and the special initiatives presented in the Union Pier Concept Plan. Such improvements could benefit the cruise industry as well as other sectors of the local economy.
3) The Foundation was present at the hearing of the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control’s Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management on April 18, 2012, to discuss the scope of environmental review that is being triggered by the new cruise terminal operation at Union Pier.

In addition to presenting a statement at the hearing (available at www.historiccharleston.org/cruiseships), the Foundation requested that the State Ports Authority provide any research regarding reasonable alternatives for the site of the new terminal and justify that the proposed location is appropriate. The Foundation also requested data which analyzes the cumulative impacts of the proposed new cruise terminal use on the surrounding historic districts and neighborhoods.

The Miley report confirms the complexity of the cruise industry, its supply chain network, and the importance for further review and community understanding. Funding for this objective report was made possible in part through a contribution by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The Foundation’s vital work will continue according to its mission to protect and preserve the integrity of the architectural, historical, and cultural character of Charleston. To read the full report, The Cruise Industry in Charleston: A Clear Perspective; the extensive legal analysis funded by Historic Charleston Foundation; and the ordinance proposed by the Foundation; visit www.historiccharleston.org/cruiseships.

 

Charleston cruise-ship opponents seize opportunity to battle new passenger terminal, an article in P&C

Charleston cruise-ship opponents seize opportunity to battle new passenger terminal, P&C, April 19, 2012. 

Opponents of Charleston’s cruise-ship industry believe the State Ports Authority’s need for a permit to build a $35 million passenger terminal presents an opportunity to stop the plan.

About 200 people, with a clear majority opposed to the new terminal, turned out Wednesday night for a hearing in North Charleston on the Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management permit.

The permit would allow the SPA to install five additional pilings under Union Pier on the Cooper River. The pilings would support elevators and escalators that would be installed in an existing warehouse slated for conversion to the new passenger terminal.

Cruise opponents said the state must consider every impact cruise ships are having in Charleston before deciding on the pilings permit.

“Simply put, if this project goes through, it could mean the end of the Ansonborough neighborhood and many others,” said Kathleen Summerall, a neighborhood resident.

Several downtown neighborhood associations have joined with environmental, health and preservation groups to oppose the cruise terminal and call for limits on the existing cruise business. A lawsuit is pending before the state Supreme Court.

Cruise terminal supporters, including Mayor Joe Riley and a number of people with port-related jobs and businesses, spoke in favor of the plan. Existing cruise-ship operations would move from the south end of union pier, near Market Street, to the north end, near Laurens Street.

“It is the same business, the same cruise activity, that is currently going on in Charleston,” Riley said.

He said the plan has the “overwhelming support” of most residents, would reduce the current impact of the cruise business, and would open 35 acres of SPA property to beneficial redevelopment.

Opponents say cruise ships pollute the air as they run their engines while in port, disturb city residents with their horns and passenger announcements, and cause traffic problems when thousands of passengers arrive and depart by car.

Coastal Conservation League Director Dana Beach said having a cruise ship in port is like putting a dirty power plant on the edge of a residential neighborhood.

“This thing is not about five pilings,” he said. “It’s about the broader impacts of the terminal project.”

The new passenger terminal would be far larger than the current one, which Beach and other opponents fear could lead to more and larger cruise ships. The city and SPA have agreed to cap cruise-ship visits at an average of two per week, and 84 are planned this year.

SPA President and CEO Jim Newsome did not speak at the OCRM permit hearing, but in comments after an SPA board meeting Tuesday, he said his pledges about the cruise business can be relied upon.

“I’m not going to be made a liar over something that accounts for five percent of our business,” he said.

The Ansonborough and Charlestowne neighborhood associations want the new passenger terminal relocated, possibly to the SPA’s Columbus Street terminal outside the downtown area. Newsome and other SPA officials have said that idea’s a non-starter, partially because Columbus Street is busy and growing port used to ship BMW vehicles and other non-container cargo.

Port worker James Pinkney Jr., vice president of the dockworker’s union, said the project should move forward. He said opponents are hypocritical, because when he was growing up in an Ansonborough housing project, he heard no objections to projects that environmentally harmed the area.

Downtown resident Courtenay McDowell said cruise-ship operations have approached a tipping point in the livability of the area.

“I speak of what’s happening today in fear of what will happen tomorrow, with more cruise ships,” she said.

There is no deadline for a decision on the permit from the Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management.

7 Reasons why the SPA’s proposed cruise terminal must be moved-

Quote: “The problem with cruises is that they can be the strip mine of tourism.”(1) –Jonathan B. Tourtellot, a National Geographic fellow and founding director of the Center for Sustainable Destinations.

Charleston will soon make a decision that will impact its future for the next 100 years. This decision will propel Charleston into one of the great cities of the world, or, very likely, mark the beginning of its slow decline. Most do not understand the dangers, and that’s understandable. The forces for the status quo are in powerful positions and have unlimited financial resources. Those opposed, non-profits, associations, and individuals have neither. But those who want to protect and wisely develop Charleston have the issues on our side. Take a moment to read some of them–the 7 Reasons why the SPA’s proposed cruise terminal must not be built at Union Pier.

1) Congestion, confusion, pollution. The noise, soot, and air pollution from toxic bunker fuel are all documented health risks; cruise ships spew four times the emissions of cargo ships.(2,3) Then there’s the vehicle and passenger congestion and diminished property values near the terminal. This is just a sampling of “deposits” to Charleston from the “Fantasy,” Carnival’s home-ported cruise ship, and port-of-call ships. But the State Ports Authority (SPA) can’t be bothered by serious health risks and has no intention of installing plug-in shore power to mitigate pollution; Carnival also remains unresponsive.(4, 4a) As cruise ships continue to increase in size,(5) these problems will get worse before they get better (if they ever do). Venice, sadly, has become cruise ship tourism tragedy.(1,6,7)

2) Asymmetrical impacts adverse to Charleston. Traffic and passenger congestion, street closures, using expensive police time…these detriments fall on Charleston residents and taxpayers as cruise ship passengers tumble onto the streets, ignore lights and cars, to buy their T-shirts and ice cream cones before being herded onto the “Fantasy,” where they spend their real money with Carnival.(8) The recent Miley Study shattered the illusion that home-port passengers spend a lot and bring millions into the local economy: “Fantasy” cruise passengers only spend $66 a day vs. $718 a day for traditional tourists.(9) That’s because each ship is a vertical monopoly–passengers pre-pay for room and board only to be enticed by extra-cost on-board amenities (drinks, gambling, spas, theme restaurants, excursions, etc.); budget passengers are left with too little money and no incentive to spend it here.(10) There’s more bad news: Charleston doesn’t get passenger tax revenue from Carnival or property tax revenue from the SPA! So with Charleston suffering the adverse impacts, who gets the dough? The SPA grabs the money from passenger and parking fees, and the $79-a-night hotels in N. Charleston bag most of the overnight stays (where passengers often get free weekly parking and a free shuttle to the terminal).

3) Where’s that SPA study of alternative cruise terminal sites? It’s a myth that most people cruising on Carnival “Fantasy” from Charleston want to visit Charleston. Most embarking passengers could do that anytime, and some have, as most live in surrounding states. Yet they’re forced to drive their cars downtown where they’re unleashed into a small, historic downtown area even as their goal is to sail away, have a few drinks, hit the casiinos and the Caribbean. Surely a cruise terminal location at the Columbus Street Terminal, Patriot’s Point, or in North Charleston would provide better access to highways, provide less expensive parking and more room for cruisers to load and unload, along with more room for busses, tour excursion vendors, provisioning trucks, etc. Before proceeding on an ill-conceived Union Pier cruise terminal site, the SPA must be forced to study and weigh air quality, noise pollution, water quality, and coastline impacts, as well as traffic and transportation requirements, construction impacts, in addition to the long-term effects of this proposed project on historic buildings, homes and gardens downtown, and Charleston’s quality-of-life. So where is that study?

Jonathan Tourtellot, quoted above, warns “Cruise ships can flood a city with people who are not necessarily interested in the place, and it becomes a turn-off to other tourists and locals. The most egregious case in the U.S. is Key West, but it’s a pattern we’ve seen repeated in Dubrovnik and Venice.”(1) The National Trust for Historic Preservation put Charleston on “Watch status”; the World Monuments Fund, the Preservation Society, and the Historic Charleston Foundation, to name a few, have issued similar warnings about unbridled cruise ship tourism–especially from a downtown terminal. But the SPA and the mayor have ignored all the warnings.

4) Why no cruise ship regulations? The Charleston tourist industry is heavily regulated, including the number, size, and impacts from taxis, pedicabs and carriages. Yet, somehow, Mayor Joseph Riley claims he has no power to regulate cruise ship tourism, adding, “Nor do I believe there is a need to.”(1). But then Riley promoted the passage of a toothless cruise ship ordinance through the City Council. The mayor, apparently, wants it both ways. And while the SPA says it will “voluntarily” limit cruise ships visits to 104 per year, two per week, and limit ships to 3500 passengers, it refuses to put any of that “voluntary pledge” in writing.(3) The SPA wants it both ways, too. The result: there are no cruise ship regulations, and there’s zero protection for Charleston. The mere fact that the dock at Union Pier is 1800′ long–enough to dock two 855′ “Fantasy”-sized ships simultaneously–would be a red flag to residents, but most weren’t shown the detailed plans for the terminal. That, plus the fact that modern cruise ships are getting bigger and bigger should provide a scary view into the future.(5) So…

5) Regulation alone isn’t enough. We’ve seen how easily regulations can be manipulated. The City Council should have passed a proposed regulation drafted by the Historic Charleston Foundation, but the mayor and council punted.(3) But even if regulations were passed, it’s hard envision the vast negotiating power of the fast-growing $30 billion-a-year, foreign-owned cruise industry. Carnival controls almost half of the cruise industry, and the power that an entity with that much money has cannot be overestimated; we need only to look at Congress to see the perverse influence money has on laws and regulations. Then there’s the horrific evidence of the irreversible damage that cruise ship terminals do to any city when they are located downtown. Irreversible damage is irreversible. That’s why the proposed cruise terminal must be located away from downtown as they are in Boston and other historic cities.

6) Charleston Tourism is exploding, even without cruise ships. The Charleston peninsula cannot grow; it is a fixed, fragile area; we can’t fill in more of the Ashley River. And they aren’t making 250-year-old houses anymore. It’s Historic Charleston that draws the traditional tourists. The glowing tourism magazine articles are a double-edged sword; tourists may think Charleston is like Disney World, but Disney World carefully regulates the number of guests it handles so all can have a good time. Charleston’s mayor won’t try. Yet reality is hitting home. After this year’s Bridge Run debacle, organizers were forced to cap participants at 40,000 for 2013.(11) But did you know that the Ft. Sumpter tour boats that normally carry 200,000 passengers a year took a record 328,000 tourists to Ft. Sumpter in 2011? And in the first quarter of this year, Ft. Sumpter tourism number is up another 11% over last year’s record!(12) The Preservation Society’s Executive Director, Evan R. Thompson, cautions that Charleston is “not unlike a rare pristine rainforest; only so many people can trample through without damaging it.” He added, “The fundamental issue is that we must sustain an environment in which people are willing to make enormous private investment in historic homes. That’s what tourists come to see,”(1) As the Charleston News Alternative’s Bryan Harrison once quipped, “When tourists come here and take a carriage ride, the horses don’t take them to the Citadel Mall.”(13) When will key officials realize what the Bridge Run organizers found out: The City simply can’t accommodate everyone? Charleston’s famed balance among business, tourism and residential quality-of-life is careening out-of-kilter.

7) Charleston must create a world-class development at Union Pier. Union Pier represents the most valuable waterfront property on the East Coast.(5) Mayor Riley extolled the virtues of a partial private development of Union Pier, “It will extend the street grid system into that area, with sidewalks and parks, and in time with new homes, offices, and shops.”(1) And that makes the very thought that the other half of Union Pier is to be wasted on a warehouse-like cruise ship terminal and nine acres of stagnant parking reprehensible, unconscionable, and financially irresponsible. Imagine the property and sales tax revenues, the construction jobs, and then the permanent jobs that would be created by the private, planned development of all of Union Pier! Now there’s an even bigger vision afoot(5)–first expressed by Thomas Bennett, West Fraser and, most recently, Evan Thompson: “Build a new, world-class performance and exhibition hall at Union Pier. A facility that costs over $100 million can and should be a highly visible and proud architectural achievement. A waterfront location would be spectacular. Rather than gut an outdated 1960s building lurking behind an Alexander Street parking garage, a new, four-sided structure can set the tone for the future of Union Pier and cement Charleston’s status as a 21st century cultural leader.”(14) We all know what the famed Sydney Opera House did for that city, lighting up the interest and imagination of millions around the world. Union Pier is a 65-acre waterfront parcel adjacent to downtown–there is no giant opportunity like this in any city anywhere else. Given the exploding growth of the Charleston area (17,000 new residents in just over one year)(15), the onslaught of tourism (even without cruise ships), and the need for more jobs and economic stability, how can we allow an arrogant, intransigent SPA and a reluctant, retiring mayor to squander the future of Charleston on a low-purpose ugly-warehouse-like cruise terminal with wasted acres of hideous asphalt parking lots when it can go somewhere else? We simply can’t. Carpe diem.

–Jay

 

# # #
a) Public Hearing – Charleston Cruise Ship Terminal – Wed., April 18th at 6 p.m.
 
1) “Community: All Aboard” – Charleston magazine
2) “Is it worth spending $4M to save Brooklyn residents $9M per year in health costs?” A View from the Hook
3) “Why not Shore Side Power” – Post and Courier
4) “A plug for shoreside power for cruise ships” – Post and Courier
4a) “Ahoy there, Carnival” – Post and Courier
5) “A broken vision” – Jay Williams cruise blog
6) Cruise Law News
7) “Venice, Charleston share a common hatred of cruise ships, sort of” — Chris Cruises
8) “So what does Charleston Get” – Jay Williams blog
9) “A Tale of Two Studies” – Jay Williams cruise blog with cited sources
10) “Carnival to redesign, rename 15-year-old cruise ship” -USA Today
11) “After Saturday’s Debacle…” Post and Courier
12) “Visitation hits record level where Civil War began” – Fox News
13) “So what does Charleston Get” – Jay Williams blog
14) “Match Gaillard plan to Community” – Evan Thompson – Post and Courier
15) Charleston Metro Area is 8th fastest growing in nation – Post and Courier

National Trust petitions Supreme Court in Carnival lawsuit- a Friday the 13th editorial in P&C: “…Carnival has refused to be regulated at all. … And it has done so with the approval of the State and the City.”

National Trust petitions Supreme Court in Carnival lawsuit, P&C, April 13, 2012.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, considered the leading advocacy organization for protecting America’s historic places, is wading deeper into the debate over cruise ships in Charleston. The findings of this widely respected group warrant serious consideration.

Last year, the NTHP put Charleston on “watch status” for its Most Endangered Places list. Then it helped sponsor, along with the Historic Charleston Foundation, a tourism impact study to assess economic, social and cultural impacts that increased levels of cruise traffic will have on historic Charleston.

Most recently, based partly on data from that study, the NTHP has filed an amicus brief with the S.C. Supreme Court supporting a lawsuit filed by the Preservation Society of Charleston, the Historic Ansonborough Neighborhood Association, Charles Towne Neighborhood Association and the Coastal Conservation League. They are seeking legal limits to restrain the impact and growth of Carnival Cruise Lines in Charleston.

Carnival is the State Ports Authority’s largest cruise ship client, and with the approval of the city, the SPA is steaming ahead. On Wednesday, it passed a major hurdle as the city’s Board of Architectural Review approved the design of a new passenger terminal.

Next, the Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management will decide whether to allow the SPA to set five pilings as supports for the terminal’s elevator and escalators. A hearing is scheduled for next Wednesday.

Some who want the industry to be subject to legal controls plan to object to the request, citing environmental concerns.

The NTHP concurs with the plaintiffs in the lawsuit that peninsula Charleston is being adversely affected by crowding, traffic and air emissions from cruise ships, and that Carnival’s massive ships loom over the skyline and block the city’s famous harbor views.

The city of Charleston, which attached itself as a co-defendant in the suit, contends that the plaintiffs do not have standing to join the lawsuit. NTHP lawyers cite numerous court cases to show that they do. The plaintiffs or people they represent have property in historic areas that are restricted by ordinances and are directly compromised by cruise ships. The lawyers also say that those plaintiffs have expenses related to cruise ships.

A hearing date hasn’t been announced.

The National Trust, founded in 1949, has more than 300,000 members and works with thousands of preservation groups in all 50 states. Over the years, it has recognized Charleston for its notable success in preservation and tourism management. In 2009, it presented its Preservation Honor Award to the city, the Historic Charleston Foundation and Page & Turnbull, Inc., for the Charleston Preservation Plan.

The city, which has delighted in accolades from the foremost preservation group, has brushed off the NTHP’s current concerns.

The NTHP, in its brief, notes that Charleston has, by law or private regulation, protected its landscape, architecture, building materials, church steeples, historic skylines and water vistas: “Unregulated cruise tourism, however, has started to jeopardize the maintenance of this fragile environment that generations of Charlestonians have worked hard to protect. Carnival has refused to place reasonable limits on the size and frequency of its ships. In fact, Carnival has refused to be regulated at all. … And it has done so with the approval of the State and the City.”

Some are framing this debate as whether or not to eliminate cruises to Charleston.

But it actually is about reasonable limits that are legally binding — limits that would help keep Charleston the place that the National Trust for Historic Preservation has heralded in the past and that residents love.

Charleston cruise ship terminal opponents prepare for next fight- an article in today’s P&C: “Having to get a permit for the pilings completely changes the landscape,” said Coastal Conservation League director Dana Beach. “We can open the whole project up to scrutiny.”

Charleston cruise ship terminal opponents prepare for next fight, P&C, April 12, 2012, David Slade. 

The plan for a $35 million Charleston cruise ship terminal received final approval from the city’s Board of Architectural Review on Wednesday, but additional challenges for the project lay ahead.

With the ink still drying on the board’s decision, opponents were readying for an Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management hearing next week, regarding a permit the State Ports Authority needs in order to drive pilings at the cruise ship terminal site.

The terminal would be created from an existing warehouse on the authority’s Union Pier, near Laurens Street on the east side of the peninsula. Several neighborhood, historic and environmental groups oppose the location, and other aspects of the cruise ship business.

Board of Architectural Review member R. Christian Schmitt said he believes the public will embrace the new cruise ship terminal “once they have the vision to understand what it is.”

Schmitt, who made the motion to grant final approval for the plan, said it’s appropriate that the SPA is renovating a “nasty old warehouse” rather than constructing a new building, because old warehouses are part of the city’s history.

The Preservation Society of Charleston had called for a new, grand cruise terminal, and the society’s Robert Gurley told board members Wednesday that the whole process has been disappointing.

The Preservation Society — along with the Coastal Conservation League, Historic Ansonborough Neighborhood Association and Charlestowne Neighborhood Association — sued Carnival Cruise Lines in June.

In the still-pending suit, the groups seek to block Carnival’s use of Union Pier, where the current cruise terminal is located and where the new cruise terminal is planned.

The city and the ports authority have stepped in to take Carnival’s side in the litigation.

The Board of Architectural Review regulates the appearance of buildings, not their location or use, so its process has been a small part of the larger controversy over the terminal. The board directed the State Ports Authority’s architects to make a number of changes during a series of meetings that began in August.

The lengthy review process played a role in pushing back the completion date for the new terminal by nine months, and ended Wednesday with a 3-0 Board of Architectural Review vote. Members Craig Bennett and Phyllis Ewing had recused themselves, and member Erika Harrison was absent.

Mayor Joe Riley spoke at the meeting, telling the board, “I believe that what we really now have is a fine building that graces the city.”

Debbie Scott, a member of the Historic Ansonborough Neighborhood Association board, had an opposing view, and told the Board of Architectural Review that more attention needs to be paid to what taxpaying residents want, versus visiting tourists.

The terminal would replace an aging passenger terminal located farther south on Union Pier, near the foot of Market Street. The new terminal location — currently an industrial-looking area surrounded by barbed-wire fence — was previously used for cargo ships.

Opponents of the cruise terminal plan believe the SPA’s need for a permit — in order to set five pilings that would support the new terminal’s elevator and escalators — is an opportunity to challenge the broader impacts of project, such as noise and traffic.

“Having to get a permit for the pilings completely changes the landscape,” said Coastal Conservation League director Dana Beach. “We can open the whole project up to scrutiny.”

Peninsula Task Force is still adrift on cruise-ship issue- Kirk Grant talks about “cruising to a disaster” in his recent P&C commentary.

Is the Peninsula Task Force up to the task?

I was very interested in the recent Post and Courier editorial encouraging the Peninsula Task Force to take charge of the cruise ship regulation issue.

The editorial correctly, I think, indicated that Mayor Joe Riley has not taken responsible action to protect the historic assets and residents of downtown neighborhoods.

The present “ordinance” is clearly a sham, providing no real use regulation as applied to every other tourist business, only a hope that if the State Ports Authority decides to increase cruise ship business it will consult.

The editorial encouraged the task force to consider reasonable regulations. I was a member of this task force for the last year, while president of Historic Ansonborough Neighborhood Association. Unfortunately, the task force is really not representative of organizations in the city.

It has members who were originally placed on the Task Force as representing a neighborhood. However, these individuals no longer are representative of their original constituency.

For example, persons initially on the task force from Ansonborough and Charlestowne neighborhood associations no longer hold positions in these associations.

Some might say because they do not represent the neighborhood at all, in fact sometimes having an opposite view of cruise ship regulation from the large majority of the neighborhood residents. But yet they remain on the task force.

Every citizen is entitled to attend task force meetings. But to have members of the task force who are not representative of any constituency is counterproductive to meaningful discussion and may be inimical to good results.

I believe The Post and Courier is mistaken that the task force, as it is presently constituted, can effectively assist the city in resolving the issues cruise ships present.

In fact, the city is cruising without a pilot, right into those problems the National Trust for Historic Preservation and World Monuments Fund recognized, as both organizations placed Charleston on watch lists due to the lack of meaningful regulation, such as the lack of on-shore power, allowing pollution from these ships, and other demonstrated problems.

Historic Charleston Foundation (whose director, Kitty Robinson, is co-chair with the mayor of the task force) has proposed a reasonable ordinance. But this was never even presented for consideration to the City Council. Why not suggest that this ordinance be revisited and hopefully meaningful regulation will result.

Unfortunately, with the composition of the task force membership and leadership, I foresee little constructive input from this group.

The editorial was only a wish: the reality is that we are “cruising to a disaster” without anyone willing to responsibly take on this issue.

J. Kirkland Grant
Charleston School of Law
Meeting Street
Charleston

“Ain’t No Sunshine…”

Last month, Post and Courier columnist Brian Hicks penned starkly contrasting, back-to-back columns. One useful, one not.

“This is going to come as a huge shock, but South Carolina has flunked ‘corruption risk’ on its report card,” Mr. Hicks wrote. “We are one of eight states nationwide that received a failing grade in the State Integrity Investigation done by the Center for Public Integrity and some other groups. We got a 57.” More bluntly, South Carolina ranked as the 6th most corrupt state in America.(2)

Hicks cites “loophole-ridden campaign finance laws,” a toothless Ethics Commission, “a pension fund in shambles,” and a “legislature that has no control over a large part of the budget…” This worthy column includes the observation, “The problem here, despite all this baloney about transparency, is that this state is set up to allow a maximum amount of monkey business. The system has very few checks and balances, and we need them.”(3)

Here’s another example he didn’t mention. In 2011, The Nerve, a website dedicated to government accountability, wrote that the State Ports Authority (SPA) picked up a $29,000 tab for a three-day trip to Panama in September, 2010. “Besides covering most of the trip costs for the seven-member legislative group, which included two staffers, and eight Ports Authority staffers and board members, the Ports Authority also paid airfare and hotel costs for a representative of a Washington lobbying firm … and a senior vice president at the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce.” The other private parties paid their own expenses. The documents reveal that $1,600 [was] spent by the group on one dinner at a private club in Panama and another $1,440 was spent on books about the Panama Canal for the 24-member group. How do we know this? Because more than 100 pages of documents was provided to The Nerve by the SPA thanks to the SC Freedom of Information Act.

The Nerve noted that two lawmakers who went on the trip – Rep. Bill Sandifer, R-Oconee, and then-Rep. Harry Cato, R-Greenville – spent an extra day in Panama. The other three lawmakers who traveled with the group were Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley; Sen. Phillip Shoopman, R-Greenville; and Rep. David Weeks, D-Sumter. Grooms, chairman of the oversight commission that year, did repay $1490.47 in travel expenses from his “Grooms for Senate” account. “All five lawmakers are or were members of the Ports Authority Review and Oversight Commission, which is required to screen board candidates and conduct oversight reviews of the authority at least once every two years.”(4)

Then Mr. Hicks followed his useful first column with an officious diatribe, “When did we get holier than thou?”

“Charleston is no longer a sweet Southern belle — it’s an ornery old man,” Hicks claims, before railing against “some folks”…who “don’t like college kids downtown, can’t have tuk-tuks roaming the street, and they sure don’t want those infernal cruise ships. If they could send the horse carriages to the glue factory, they would. “And now, one single, solitary cigar bar is one too many.” Implying “snootiness,” Hicks attacks what he labels as the “‘No’ crowd,” saying “lately it’s just getting intolerant, and that’s no recipe for a vibrant city. During the cruise ship dustup, Mayor Joe Riley blasted these people who are against everything, pointing out that this is a living, breathing, working city — not a neighborhood.”

“Meanwhile, folks on the peninsula can’t even carry their wine with them on the Art Walk anymore,” Hicks rattles on, “Sure, the ‘No’ crowd wants to ban smoking and drinking, but they don’t even like tourists with black socks and sandals.”(5)

Hick’s unsupportable gross generalization is that anyone who opposes any issue downtown–say uncontrolled cruise ship activity–is, ipso facto, against everything. If that were true, the reverse would be true. People like Mayor Riley, who are all for cruise ships, must favor all the other stuff Hicks seems to want. But Mayor Riley has raised safety concerns about the doorless Tuk-tuks, noting that they “would contribute to a theme park atmosphere,” adding the police department is also against them.(6) The mayor is no fan of carting drinks from gallery to gallery during the Art Walk, either; he favors the uniform enforcement of the open container laws.(7)

Is it possible that people aren’t as simplistic as Mr. Hicks imagines?

It’s unfortunate that a columnist who advocates for government accountability would resort to a smoke screen of fustian and fantasy to belittle those whose views he opposes. We need only look at the national scene to see how unproductive that is. Charleston is at a crossroads. Rather than demean those daring to participate in public policy issues, we should encourage them. We’ve witnessed the SPA’s brutish tactics to propel a flawed proposal that squanders 30-acres of the most valuable downtown waterfront for stagnant parking lots and an expensive cruise terminal to be used mostly so people can sail away and spend money elsewhere. With such important issues facing Charleston, honest discussions are all too uncommon–instead, establishment posturing abounds.

On Good Friday, the Post and Courier’s front page headline read, “Growing Pains, Area faces hurdles in absorbing new residents.”(8) Metro Charleston is the eighth fastest growing area in the country, with 17,000 new residents in just over a year. Growth is changing Charleston’s future. The organizers of the “Bridge Run,” now capped at 40,000 participants, just learned that they can’t accommodate everyone downtown. The sooner everyone realizes that and agrees to work together to create a balance of what we can and can’t accommodate, the better.

–Jay

# # #
1) Public Hearing – Charleston Cruise Ship Terminal – Wed., April 18th at 6 p.m.
2) “America’s Most Corrupt States” – Fox Business
3) SC Fails in “Corruption Risk” Tally – Hicks, Post and Courier
http://www.postandcourier.com/article/20120324/PC1203/303249946
4) Ports Authority spends $29K on Panama Trip – The Nerve
5) “When did we get holier than thou?” –Hicks, Post and Courier
 6) Will tuk-tuks find a home on Charleston’s streets – P&C
7) Eat Drink and be Wary – Post and Courier editorial
8) Charleston metro area is 8th fastest growing in nation – Post and Courier

Match Gaillard plan to community- Evan Thompson’s commentary in P&C: “…please consider a few alternatives…”

Match Gaillard plans to community, P&C, April 8, 2012. 

Charleston needs a new performing arts center, and private charitable contributions to renovate the Gaillard Auditorium are a wonderful gift to our community. This gift also presents the opportunity to rethink how this ever-expanding project can be reorganized to improve neighborhoods as well.

Recently unveiled plans to create space for outdoor catered events and performances for up to 1,500 people on the auditorium’s Calhoun Street lawn give us pause. With the energy and financial resources behind this project, it is not too much to consider how we can take it to the next level without suffocating adjacent neighborhoods.

Preservation progress in Charleston is about protecting and improving neighborhoods. But the intensification of uses at a renovated and expanded Gaillard Auditorium, including a new 80,000-square-foot city office building attached to the rear of the building, undermines the residential character of adjacent neighborhoods.

Traffic and congestion already overwhelm the area around the Gaillard, and adding more is not progress. Pile driving will threaten masonry buildings and the scale of what is proposed trivializes historic houses and churches.

Before we collectively invest nearly $150 million in this project, please consider a few alternatives that might better position this public investment for a more widely dispersed benefit.

1) Invest in the Cigar Factory for city offices as part of an award-winning public-private preservation project. It makes sense that our historic city should have offices and meeting space in an historic landmark. It does not make sense to put city offices in historic Ansonborough. Upper East Bay Street is readily accessible to all city residents, and restoring the Cigar Factory would anchor the East Side neighborhood. The upper stories could become residential lofts and ground floor commercial space would add conveniences for city employees and nearby residents. A neighborhood would be given new life and it could stimulate the construction of a parking facility nearby that could be shared with Trident Technical College to ensure that it, too, can grow with Charleston.

2) Build a new, world-class performance and exhibition hall at Union Pier. A facility that costs over $100 million can and should be a highly visible and proud architectural achievement. A waterfront location would be spectacular. Rather than gut an outdated 1960s building lurking behind an Alexander Street parking garage, a new, four-sided structure can set the tone for the future of Union Pier and cement Charleston’s status as a 21st century cultural leader. It would improve the quality of a derelict Union Pier.

3) Create a waterfront plaza for outdoor performances adjacent to the new performance hall. Current plans call for the construction of an outdoor stage next to 75 Calhoun St. as part of a redesigned park that can accommodate 1,500 people for performances. A waterfront plaza is far more appropriate for this sort of use and would crown Mayor Joe Riley’s fine legacy of developing popular public parks on the Cooper River. The logistics of dueling outdoor events at Marion Square and next door to 75 Calhoun St. would otherwise gridlock downtown on a busy weekend in the near future.

4) Build a shared parking facility for the new cruise ship terminal and a new performance hall. A nine-acre surface parking lot is not the highest and best use of our waterfront. A parking garage at Concord and Laurens streets could be justified and would free up planned waterfront surface parking areas for the construction of a new performance and exhibition hall.

5) Incorporate the Bennett Rice Mill façade into the exterior of the new building. Whether attached to the new structure or stabilized as part of an entrance courtyard, this magnificent piece of antebellum industrial architecture can be creatively saved and enhance the redevelopment of the site.

6) Re-establish the neighborhood fabric of Ansonborough. There are modern buildings worth saving, but the Gaillard is not one of them. The site of the present auditorium and adjacent surface parking lots on Alexander and George streets could be subdivided once again into the single family residential lots that they had been for 200 years. The 40-year-old tree canopy along George Street would shade future piazzas rather than turn to mulch. New city blocks carved out by extending Menotti Street east to Alexander, reconnecting Alexander between George and Laurens, and extending Wall Street north to Menotti would ensure a pedestrian scale and reassert the street grid. The sale of the lots would generate city revenue and the property would go back on the tax rolls.

7) Dedicate “Gaillard Park.” The current green space at Calhoun and Anson streets could be improved as a passive park and garden for the enjoyment of all Charlestonians, particularly as an amenity for neighborhoods on both sides of Calhoun Street while continuing to serve as recreation space for Buist Academy students.

It is not too late to reconsider how a nearly $150 million investment in an auditorium, exhibit hall and city office building can be redirected to save Ansonborough, the Cigar Factory, the Bennett Rice Mill façade and Union Pier.

Let’s refocus our energy into making a new waterfront Gaillard possible while improving the quality of our downtown neighborhoods. It would be an investment worth celebrating.

Evan R. Thompson is executive director of the Preservation Society of Charleston.

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