Archive for July 2013

We can learn from other cities…

There have been a few editorials in the Post and Courier lately – it seems that our city leaders could stand to learn from other cities, figure out the problems and come up with a solution…

July 26, 2013 letter to the editor:

In response to the July 14 letter noting that the air was cleaner and it was quieter around the cruise ships dock in Vancouver: In 2009, Port Metro Vancouver became the first port in Canada to install shore power for cruise ships, allowing ships to shut down their diesel engines and connect to a land-based electrical grid while docked.

The costs were shared by the Canadian government, British Columbia Ministry of Transportation & Infrastructure, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises, BC Hydro and the port. They won international awards for this effort. So maybe Charleston leaders could convene a similar group and lead the way for the Southeast coast.

T. L. Herbert
Brantley Drive, Charleston

July 14, 2013 letter to the editor:

I just had the opportunity to visit Vancouver, British Columbia, for several days. Vancouver has embraced the cruise ship industry. They have a spectacular cruise ship terminal that is right downtown complete with shops, restaurants, and also their rail terminal.

I was there for three days and I saw seven different ships in port from three different cruise lines. I did not notice any pollution coming from the ships, there was no loud noise or music coming from any of the ships at any time, and the passengers even exited the ship on a different level from where the shops were. The only noise that we could hear was the sounding of the horn as the ships left. The seaplanes that were constantly landing and taking off made much more noise than any of the cruise ships.

Maybe we should check with Vancouver to see how they have been so successful in working with the cruise industry.

Edward Leary
High Hammock Road, Johns Island

South Carolina gaining more from cruise ship industry spending, report says

A new report showed an uptick in cruise industry spending in the United States last year, including added dollars for South Carolina.

The cruise ship industry spent $117.7 million on goods and services in The Palmetto State in 2012, up roughly 3.8 percent from the $113.4 million in 2011, according to a report released this week by Cruise Lines International Association. The Washington-based trade group represents cruise lines, travel agents, port authorities and destinations, according to its website.


The state with the largest impact from the cruise ships industry was Florida, which received $7 billion, or 36 percent of the direct expenditures generated by the cruise industry in the country.

South Carolina climbed a single ranking to 25th in 2012, receiving 0.6 percent of overall direct expenditures tied to the cruise industry, according to the report.


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Judge asked to rule in Charleston cruise terminal lawsuit

All sides involved in a lawsuit challenging a $35 million cruise ship terminal on the Charleston peninsula agree on one point: They want a federal judge to rule on the case to avert a costly trial.

Two preservation and environmental groups sued the Army Corps of Engineers for allowing the State Ports Authority to drive five pilings as part of the project at Union Pier Terminal.

Both sides spelled out their arguments for a favorable ruling from U.S. District Judge Richard M. Gergel in a flurry of documents filed Monday.

The case is one of several legal challenges to the SPA’s cruise business. The heated debate is pitting peninsular neighborhood associations and other groups against the local maritime industry and the city.

The tone grew sharper three years ago, after Carnival Cruise Lines moved its 2,056-passenger ship Fantasy to Union Pier, making Charleston a year-round cruise-passenger destination.

The city and SPA have said the industry is regulated properly and that pleasure ships will never be more than a niche operation.

Opposition groups want to clamp down on the big vessels, saying they’re damaging the Historic District by generating more tourists, vehicles and pollution.

The SPA is proposing to turn a vacant warehouse at the north end of Union Pier into a passenger terminal to replace its obsolete cruise facility near the end of Market Street. It’s seeking to have the lawsuit tossed.

Assistant U.S. Attorney John Douglas, who represents the Corps of Engineers, argued that the pile-driving permit the agency approved last year was proper. The work is maintenance on an existing structure, he said.

The SPA said the pilings would have minimal impact.

“The five piling clusters are being added to the thousands of pilings that presently support Union Pier,” the maritime agency says in a document this week.

Attorney Blan Holman, who represents the plaintiffs, said the work isn’t maintenance because the use of the empty cargo warehouse would change. He also said the project would have consequences beyond the waterfront.

“The record overwhelmingly demonstrates that construction of a new home terminal for 10-story high, 1,000-foot-long cruise ships in the heart of the best-preserved city in the United States has at least the potential for impacts on historic properties and the human environment,” Holman says in his written argument.

He also says the Army Corps did not consider other sites for the new cruise building in North Charleston, Mount Pleasant and at the SPA’s Columbus Street Terminal.

The Preservation Society of Charleston and the S.C. Coastal Conservation League filed the lawsuit last year. They are seeking to revoke the federal permit. They also want more studies and public review.

The case could go to trial in November if Gergel declines to make a ruling.

View article here

Just the cruise facts

You may recall the thesis we posted a few weeks ago. It is really quite interesting the very different approaches taken by two very similar and competitive cities.

The debate over cruise ships in Charleston has been intractable. Port officials are adamant that they should be the ones to rein in their cruise business if it gets out of hand. Preservationists and neighbors argue that the city needs to use its authority to limit the number and size of cruise ships here. The city, they say, is already suffering from too many people, too much air pollution and cruise ship profiles that dwarf the city’s scenic skyline.
The two sides are locked in a legal battle.

So it might be interesting to read, in a guest column on today’s Commentary page, how Savannah decided to avoid such cruise-related strife.

And it might be interesting to consider the dispassionate perspective of a scholar on the subject.

Lauren Perez Hoogkamer recently completed her thesis for a master of science in historic preservation and a master of science in urban planning at the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation at Columbia University.

Her topic?

Assessing and managing cruise ship tourism in historic port cities: Case Study, Charleston, South Carolina.

After extensive research in Charleston and globally, Mrs. Hoogkamer makes several recommendations for an assessment and phased management plan that would allow the city to “reap the benefits of cruise tourism while mitigating costs and protecting invaluable cultural resources.”

To date, neither the State Ports Authority nor the city of Charleston has been willing to place enforceable restrictions on the cruise business here despite repeated requests for such by residents.

Mrs. Hoogkamer suggests pausing the Union Pier project in order to conduct baseline studies and assessments of the “potential impacts on the overall environment, economy, and community, including historic and cultural resources.” She further suggests that the State Historic Preservation Office might require this assessment, given the cruise terminal’s proximity to historic Charleston.

Mrs. Hoogkamer concludes that a heritage tourism management plan should be created by the city, state, preservation professionals and the tourism/cruise industry, and that Charleston and the SPA implement appropriate taxes, fees and funds to offset management and maintenance costs.

This money could go toward preservation and environmental conservation — perhaps shoreside power to reduce air emissions from cruise ships idling at dock.

Finally, she concludes that “strict and binding passenger and ship quotas and limitations” should be implemented — something, again, that residents have asked for but the city and SPA have refused.

Mrs. Hoogkamer’s proposals mirror and expand upon some proposed locally. She does include a caveat about her research — Tim Keane, Charleston’s director of planning, preservation and sustainability, cut their interview short after 15 minutes, and both SPA representatives, Allison Skipper and Patrick Moore, canceled their meetings for last-minute engagements.

That’s too bad. It isn’t too late for the SPA and the City of Charleston to listen to reason and codify restrictions so that Charleston can profit from the cruise industry without being damaged.

But first they have to show an open mind.

Read full article here


FACTS steer Savannah away from cruise folly

The recent announcement by Carnival Corporation that the company is pulling its ships from home ports in Norfolk, Baltimore and Boston this year flashes a warning light for cities with millions in taxpayer funds sunk in cruise terminals.

Coincidentally, on the day Carnival issued the press release, Savannah City Council voted unanimously against developing a cruise ship terminal. Despite the glowing picture of new revenue and jobs painted by the city’s consultants, when the citizens and council members looked at the facts, they found the problem now facing Norfolk, Baltimore and Boston: The business case for a terminal simply wasn’t there.



The facts that make cruise terminals questionable investments are not unique to Savannah. Of course, the cruise lines industry isn’t likely to talk about them. Terminals in the U.S. are built with public funds, and cruise lines love to have ports compete with each other for their business.

If you’re a cruise corporation CEO, what’s not to like? Cities, states and port authorities spend taxpayer money or borrow long-term to build terminals. Cruise companies put up no financial stake. And if their business equation shifts, the standard industry contract allows them with minimal notice to sail away.

Ironically, on the day Savannah City Council voted to kill the cruise terminal idea, Carnival Cruise Lines, the world’s largest cruise corporation, did just that. Carnival announced it was pulling its last ship from Norfolk later this year and that it will pull another ship from Baltimore in 2014. Norfolk’s under-used terminal is already saddling its taxpayers with over $1 million a year in debt service and operating costs. Baltimore was considering expanding its terminal; the port apparently needs to think again.

For Charleston, the analysis that led to Savannah’s “no” vote is worth a look. The challenges facing terminals like Charleston’s are growing. In addition to Norfolk, five similar terminals built since 2000 — Philadelphia, Mobile, Houston, San Diego and Honolulu — are either closed or operating deep in the red. It’s not just the cruise corporations’ tactics — their habit of pulling out with little notice as they follow shifts in the market — that should cause worry. Trends in the cruise industry suggest that strategic business risks for such terminals are rising as well.

Cruise corporations are building bigger ships, making those in the 2000-plus passenger range like the Carnival Fantasy a shrinking share of their fleets. Terminals that service older, smaller ships are going to compete for fewer vessels.

Marketing will focus increasingly on cities with mega-ship terminals such as Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Port Everglades. These ports already handle over 70 percent of all East coast cruise passengers; ports with smaller ships in the Southeast — Norfolk, Charleston, Mobile, and Jacksonville — together embark barely 5 percent.

As the saying goes, follow the money. For terminals like Charleston, the sliver of the market is likely to shrink in the years ahead.

There’s another trend that should concern all but the largest terminal operators. The cruise industry is shifting to Asia. It’s no secret. Its senior executives say so. Some 50 million Chinese traveled abroad in 2010; the number is projected to double by 2020.

Cruise corporations are already repositioning ships and building new terminals in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Singapore. For smaller terminals in the U.S., the industry’s forecasts mean only one thing: Expect even more competition for ships and greater risks that they’ll sail away as cruise lines respond to the world’s fastest growing travel market abroad.

Investing in a terminal makes sense only if the purported benefits exceed the risks and costs. In Savannah, even the “best case” predictions of jobs and revenue fell far short. The city’s consultants touted 1,000 new jobs. But a close look at the numbers revealed that a terminal in full operation in 2020 would generate at best a few hundred part-time, seasonal jobs with an average wage below the 2010 poverty level. The findings dovetail with analysis of Carnival’s operations in Charleston by Miley & Associates. They suggest the need to dig deeper into real data.

For landmark cities like Charleston and Savannah, costs and risks are not just financial. Terminal operations in the heart of a city bring pollution, congestion and the displacement of destination visitors. All are effects that can damage unique historic values as well as infrastructure, not to mention the quality of life. Savannah’s consultants inexplicably downplayed the estimated additional 1,500 cars on the streets on cruise ship turn-around days and the urban health hazards from toxic ship exhaust.

As Charleston unfortunately knows, cruise lines turn a blind eye to such problems. Their behavior figured prominently in Savannah’s “no” vote.

Facts, John Adams once said, are stubborn things. For Savannah, a cruise terminal represented major public costs with highly uncertain returns. That equation may be different elsewhere, but the cruise industry’s business model, including its success in shifting major burdens onto the backs of the taxpayers, is not.

Savannah’s citizens spoke out overwhelmingly against a terminal for good reasons. Why its political leaders listened and agreed with them is worth a close look.

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Kent Harrington is co-founder of Be Smart Savannah, a community discussion group concerned with public policy issues. Its website is