Archive for October 2013

Charleston, meet your City Council candidates

Charleston, meet your City Council candidates

Holy City Contenders

by @CCPNews

Clockwise from top left: Mike Seekings, Rodney Williams, Liz Fulton, Blake Hallman, Fran Clasby,  and William Dudley GregorieClockwise from top left: Mike Seekings, Rodney Williams, Liz Fulton, Blake Hallman, Fran Clasby, and William Dudley Gregorie

Bicycle initiatives, cruise ship regulations, and a nascent development boom are on the tips of City Council candidates’ tongues in Charleston this year. The races provide a diverse cast of characters with widely differing views on the future of the Holy City, particularly in District 6, where four challengers have stepped up to run against incumbent Councilman William Dudley Gregorie.

The city’s even-numbered districts are up for elections this year. Incumbents Dean Riegel (District 10) and Kathleen Wilson (District 12) are running unopposed.

District 2

Hallman

  • Hallman

Blake Hallman (incumbent)

Blake Hallman is a busy man. In addition to teaching at the Culinary Institute of Charleston, acting as a partner in charge of operations at two Myrtle Beach restaurants, and serving on City Council, he’s also the president of the S.C. Battleground Preservation Trust, vice president of the Fort Sumter-Fort Moultrie Historical Trust, and head of the Morris Island Coalition.

In his first four years on council, Hallman says his goals were to improve the efficiency of city government, protect the city’s brand, promote business, and keep taxes in check. Now, with improvement projects coming to the Glenn McConnell Parkway and Bees Ferry Road, Hallman says he and the other West Ashley councilmembers are pushing for paying more attention to the vast portion of the city that lies off the peninsula. “We feel like West Ashley has been neglected, and we have called for and [Mayor Riley] has agreed to set up a West Ashley economic plan,” Hallman says. “So that’s going to hopefully bring some renewed interest and focus on West Ashley through new business, zoning that might help support that, and beautification plans.”

Recently, when City Council voted on whether to take over the I-526 extension project from Charleston County (a bluff that ultimately forced County Council’s hand to move forward on the controversial road project), Hallman was one of only two dissenting votes. “My question was, how much will it cost?” Hallman says. After hearing from the State Infrastructure Board that I-526 funding was on shaky ground, Hallman took interest in an alternative traffic plan for West Ashley that focused on improving certain intersections and was projected to save millions. The rest of council did not follow suit.

“You should expect from your government to look at all the options, cost them out, and find the best course of action according to a cost-benefit analysis,” Hallman says.

Williams

  • Williams

Rodney Williams

Rodney Williams lives just a few doors down from incumbent District 2 Councilman Blake Hallman on Wayah Drive in West Ashley, but he says he barely knows his representative on City Council. “I do know him in passing, but there’s people on our street that don’t even know him,” Williams says. “Ninety-eight percent of people do not know him, are not even aware of him.”

Williams says, if elected, he would make himself available to constituents — a promise that must be weighed against the fact that Williams himself never replied to emails or phone calls from the City Paper until we drove to his house and knocked on his door.

Williams currently runs a business that consults local constituencies on economic development and healthcare issues, but he worked for 15 years building affordable housing as director of the Sea Island Habitat for Humanity. As a spectator to City Council, he says he has been baffled by a few of Councilman Hallman’s decisions, including his opposition to the city’s proposed takeover of the I-526 extension project. “He voted against that, and I don’t understand why,” Williams says, citing a survey that found 72 percent of people in the affected areas were in favor of extending I-526.

As a councilman, Williams says his priorities would include the improvement of regional transportation infrastructure. He says he would also work to bring in employers that pay a living wage, making it more affordable for workers to live near where they work. He also says he would push city police to interact more with residents of West Ashley neighborhoods where crime has become an issue.

Williams previously ran against Hallman in 2009. He captured 43.5 percent of the vote.

District 4

Fulton

  • Fulton

Liz Fulton

A 2012 graduate of the Charleston School of Law, Liz Fulton would be by far the youngest councilmember if elected. Now a civil litigator at Corrigan & Chandler, Fulton got her first taste of government in law school, where she served as president of the Student Bar Association and an intern to City Council.

She says her district, which includes the Eastside, Cannonborough-Elliotborough, North Central, and businesses like PeopleMatter that form the nexus of the latest “Silicon Harbor” crop of tech startups, is “the district where everything is happening in Charleston.” Fulton says she would push new construction projects to hire local contractors. She also says, if elected, one of her priorities will be “making sure that the city continues to be responsive and welcoming to startups and new businesses.”

To that end, Fulton is bullish on Enough Pie’s vision for a creative corridor in the Neck and Upper Peninsula. She says she was initially concerned that the nonprofit organization’s meetings neglected people from nearby neighborhoods, but she says she has seen improvements in the dialogue. “You’re going to have this bohemian artist revival up there, and it’s going to make a place that’s been forgotten or overlooked a new place to go and invest and live and work,” Fulton says.

In her interview, Fulton sounds frustrated with the pace of progress on certain hot-button issues. She says she “can’t believe it took so long” to get bike corrals on King Street, she’s anxious to see a bike-and-pedestrian lane added to the peninsula-bound Ashley River Bridge, and she thinks the city should have secured a written agreement on visiting cruise ship volume as the State Ports Authority looked to expand Union Pier. As for the pollution-reducing idea of requiring Carnival cruise ships to plug into onshore power, she says it “seems like a great idea.”

District 4

Mitchell

  • Mitchell

Robert Mitchell (incumbent)

Councilman Mitchell is the only City Council member you’re likely to see patrolling the Eastside on foot after 1 a.m. He says he does it because he likes to keep an eye on the neighborhood’s ever-shrinking criminal element, and he reports all suspicious behavior to police. He prides himself on his street-level approach to governance, and he’s also a regular attendee at all of the neighborhood associations meetings in District 4.

“If you want to be a productive councilmember in the district I represent, you have to be out there,” Mitchell says. “You have to be accessible … Everything with me is public. My home telephone number is in the phone book, and I give my cell phone number out all the time.”

Mitchell says he took an interest when the nonprofit organization Enough Pie started talking about the potential for a creative and artistic renaissance in the Neck, the largely industrial area connecting the upper peninsula with North Charleston. He says he spoke with the group’s leadership and told them he liked their ideas, but he encouraged them to sit down with community leaders from surrounding neighborhoods including Rosemont and Silver Hill.

If re-elected, Mitchell says it will be his last term in office. One of his top priorities would be ensuring that S.C. State University can build its planned job training center on Lee Street on the Eastside. He also wants to encourage the construction of new low-, moderate-, and high-income housing in the area of the former Cooper River Bridge ramp.

On the topic of cruise ships, Mitchell says, “If we can regulate the number of cruise ships, we should do that.” He says that a requirement for cruise ships to plug in to onshore power “might be a good thing,” too.

On bike safety, Mitchell says the peninsula needs more bike racks, but that the city needs to find a way to put in more racks without forfeiting on-street car parking. He opposes a plan to shut down a lane of car traffic on the peninsula-bound Ashley River Bridge to make a bike-and-pedestrian lane. “That, to me, is going to cause another traffic jam,” he says.

District 6

Clasby

  • Clasby

Fran Clasby

Fran Clasby makes a lot of noise as president of the Wagener Terrace Neighborhood Association. Among his successful crusades, he has advocated for a Montessori program at James Simons Elementary School, raised funds for renovation of the Corinne Jones Playground, and organized fundraisers to subsidize the planting of trees along streets in his neighborhood.

Last summer, Clasby was among the outspoken proponents of a new recreation lane for Mary Murray Drive, the road that circles Hampton Park. District 6 Councilman William Dudley Gregorie disagreed, citing safety concerns that would arise unless a physical barrier was constructed between bike and car traffic. “I told [Gregorie] at the City Council meeting when he voted in opposition to it that I’d be seeing him on the ballot,” Clasby says. “Not that he’s done a bad job, but I think we can do better.” (The measure ultimately passed.)

Clasby, who has worked for 23 years in the physical therapy department at MUSC, says that on Council he would work to maintain affordable housing stock around the hospital campus as the Horizon redevelopment project moves forward. He is also in favor of traffic calming measures, and he wants to turn Cannon Street, Spring Street, Ashley Avenue, and Rutledge Avenue into two-way streets. An avid bicyclist, he says he wants to raise the gas tax to pay for infrastructure improvements and favors shutting down the southernmost lane of car traffic on the Ashley River Bridge to create a bike-and-pedestrian lane.

When it comes to cruise ships docking in Charleston, Clasby says the city should do more to regulate the cruise ships and require them to plug in to onshore power while docked. “I’m downwind from the port, I have soot on my house, and I know it comes from the port,” Clasby says. “So there’s no mystery in that. Shoreline power is a definite must.”

Lauretta Lemon Dailey

We don’t know much about Lauretta Lemon Dailey. She didn’t reply to emails, and after we got her on the phone and set up an in-person interview, she didn’t show up.

According to her campaign website, Dailey taught in the Charleston County School District for 31 years. She is the former president of the Wagener Terrace Neighborhood Association, a former volunteer at the S.C. Aquarium, and a current chairperson of the Charleston County Missionary Baptist Association Education Committee.

The only hint her website gives about her platform is this sentence: “My background in education will offer to help produce comprehensive, effective, and efficient solutions for things that make life better for those living in Charleston County.”

D'Allesandro

  • D’Allesandro

Ben D’Allesandro

As the co-owner and manager of D’Allesandro’s Pizza, Ben D’Allesandro is a relative newcomer to politics. His only experience in government comes from his position as a constituent school board member for District 20.

Perhaps because of his outsider status and his connections in the food and beverage industry, he brings some fresh ideas to the District 6 race. He is, for instance, the only candidate to suggest establishing a minimum wage in the city of Charleston. “It can keep a lot of workers living close to where they work,” D’Allesandro says. “The rents are not going to come down, so we might as well look at trying to raise the minimum wage to something a little bit more respectable than $7.25 an hour. I mean, you take taxes out of that, it’s a silly amount of money.”

D’Allesandro says his priorities in office would also include improving storm drainage on the peninsula and making the city’s use of hospitality and tourism tax money more transparent.

On the matter of making Charleston a more bicycle-friendly town, D’Allesandro says the city should look at establishing a north-south route on the peninsula by shutting down a lane of car traffic or parking. He also wants to put a parking hub near the northern end of town so that commuters can leave their cars there and ride in on bicycles.

D’Allesandro watched with interest as Council debated the merits of the now-passed Late Night Entertainment Establishment Ordinance, and while he says he doesn’t have a problem with it, he says he’s not sure what good it will do. He says he thinks the city should hire still more police officers to patrol problem spots at night.

“If we want to be an economy that’s heavy on tourism, then we need to be a little bit more aware of what tangibles will come along with that,” D’Allesandro says. “If a lot of tourists or visitors come to visit an area, it means that we’re doing a good job, but they’re also going to be out there enjoying the restaurants and the nightlife. You can’t have one without the other.”

Joe Good

A lifelong Charlestonian, Joe Good practices criminal defense law from an office on Church Street. He also co-owns Fat & Juicy, a company that sells a Bloody Mary drink mix in 48 states and five countries. On City Council, he says he would work to remove red tape for people starting businesses in Charleston, streamlining the process so applicants don’t end up bouncing from office to office.

One thing Good has noticed about Charleston is that only a small portion of the general public gets involved with major city decisions. “More people would be engaged if they were led to be engaged,” Good says. “That’s what I want to do, and I think that can be accomplished through communication.” His ideas include creating a Facebook page and online message board for District 6, and he says he would hold regular town hall-style meetings in the various neighborhoods of the district. He says he might even take a page from the playbook of recently elected state Sen. Marlon Kimpson and start riding the CARTA bus to get to know constituents.

While Good says making the peninsula more bicycle-friendly will help ease traffic on the peninsula, he opposes shutting down a lane of car traffic on the Ashley River Bridge to make a new bike lane. And while he says he’s concerned about what increased cruise ship traffic could cause a spike in tourist volume and turn certain parts of town in tourist traps á la Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, he says his solution is to regulate the types of businesses that open near the terminal. “Would that be a better solution? Probably, and then you wouldn’t have to regulate the cruise ship industry as much,” he says.

Gregorie

  • Gregorie

William Dudley Gregorie (incumbent)

William Dudley Gregorie is retired, so he is able to work as a full-time councilman and mayor pro tem. In recent years, he says he has fielded hundreds of calls from constituents and helped them deal with problems including ditch cleaning, speed bump installations, and foreclosure issues.

As a former field office director for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Gregorie says some of his proudest accomplishments include securing funding for MUSC’s Ashley River Tower and for North Charleston’s Horizon Village, a partially subsidized low-income housing development on Spruill Avenue. In four years on City Council, his major proposals have included a transparency ordinance to televise meetings (which passed) and a proposal to expand the city’s fair housing laws to protect the elderly and people of all sexual orientations (which did not pass).

Gregorie is one of the original board members of the Horizon Project Foundation, which is overseeing a massive mixed-use redevelopment effort on the west side of the peninsula near MUSC. He says the project is slated to include new research facilities and 1,500 residential units, and he is pushing to ensure that it is anchored by a supermarket. “We’re talking about creating a new community, a new town in town,” Gregorie says.

If re-elected, Gregorie says he will look for ways to generate more revenue for the city, including attracting new businesses. He says deepening the harbor will be a business boon, and he is bullish on wind and solar energy research in the city. He says he is also considering the possibility of raising the gas tax. He says he wants to look at regional transportation options, including commuter railway connections to Charlotte, Atlanta, and Jacksonville.

Gregorie has run for mayor twice now, and he says he might run again after Mayor Riley finishes what he has promised will be a final term.

District 8

Rose

  • Rose

Bobbie Rose

Retired from a career in real estate, Bobbie Rose is running for City Council more or less on a single issue: fixing the cruise ship industry in Charleston.

“I’m running for this office mainly on one passion and one thing that I want to fight for: Regulating the size and frequency of the cruise ships that come in, providing shoreside power, and mandating that they plug in,” Rose says. “I’m not anti-cruise ship, but I just feel like that’s not a lot to ask for the residents of this city.”

Although incumbent Councilman Mike Seekings pushed against Mayor Riley to make cruise ship regulations enforceable and has said that he favors onshore power, Rose

says Seekings missed his opportunity to step up to the plate back when Council approved the planned $35 million cruise ship terminal at Union Pier.

“That would have been a good time for any of the councilmembers to show leadership and say, ‘I can’t vote for this unless we are sure that there are regulations in place,'” Rose says. “That would have been the time to do that. It’s very easy to say ‘I’m for regulations’ after the vote has passed. That’s appearing strong without doing any heavy lifting.”

Aside from cruise ship issues, Rose says she’s interested in fixing flooding problems and working with leadership at the College of Charleston on livability issues in neighborhoods where students live.

“I will say I am running for City Council because I plan to sit on City Council for at least four years and longer if I do a good job,” Rose says. “I am not aspiring to run for mayor.”

Seekings

  • Seekings

Mike Seekings (incumbent)

Mike Seekings has been a calm voice on Council in his first four years, often proposing compromises and rarely injecting much emotion into his oratory. But when it comes to his biggest issues — transportation and taxes — he can be relentless.

Seekings is perhaps best known on Council for his crusade to make the city a more bikeable place. “The change in culture from when I started to how people view it now is good, but now we have to deal with infrastructure and actually getting people onboard with projects and complying with the things we’ve done,” Seekings says.

He was a major proponent of creating a bicycle and pedestrian lane on the Ashley River Bridge, a measure that he says will likely come to pass soon as long as the DOT decides not to replace the bridge entirely. Looking beyond that, Seekings says he still wants to create bike-navigable corridors from north to south and east to west on the peninsula. He has been outspoken on council about wanting to turn Rutledge Street and Ashley Avenue into two-way streets north of Calhoun and adding bike lanes on those streets. “It’s a free-for-all out there, and it’s unlivable,” he says.

Seekings says that if re-elected, he will continue to fight the city’s habit of raising property taxes every time revenue falls short of expenses. “We run this city, a $150 million city, on business license fees, property taxes, and parking,” he says. “So think about it: If you are a local businessperson who owns your own building and has to pay for your employees to park, we’re running the entire city off your back on taxes.”

Speculation has already started that Seekings might run for mayor in 2015. “I want the best person to fill that job that is available,” Seekings says. “If that’s me, it’s something I’ll consider, and if it’s someone else, that’s fine too.”

Too Big to Sail?

Too Big to Sail? Cruise Ships Face Scrutiny

Peter W. Cross for The New York Times

Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas has 2,706 rooms, as well as a shopping mall, a casino and a water park.

One of the largest cruise ships in 1985 was the 46,000-ton Carnival Holiday. Ten years ago, the biggest, the Queen Mary 2, was three times as large. Today’s record holders are two 225,000-ton ships whose displacement, a measure of a ship’s weight, is about the same as that of a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier.

Multimedia
Italian Guardia di Finanza, via Reuters

The Costa Concordia, owned by the Carnival Corporation, capsized off the coast of Italy last year, killing 32 people.

Cruise ships keep growing bigger, and more popular. The Cruise Lines International Association said that last year its North American cruise line members carried about 17 million passengers, up from seven million in 2000. But the expansion in ship size is worrying safety experts, lawmakers and regulators, who are pushing for more accountability, saying the supersize craze is fraught with potential peril for passengers and crew.

“Cruise ships operate in a void from the standpoint of oversight and enforcement,” said James E. Hall, a safety management consultant and the chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board between 1994 and 2001. “The industry has been very fortunate until now.”

The perils were most visible last year when the Costa Concordia, owned by the Carnival Corporation, which is based in Miami, capsized off the coast of Italy. The accident killed 32 people and revealed fatal lapses in safety and emergency procedures.

In February, a fire crippled the Carnival Triumph, stranding thousands without power for four days in the Gulf of Mexico until the ship was towed to shore. Another blaze forced Royal Caribbean’s Grandeur of the Seas to a port in the Bahamas in May. Pictures showed the ship’s stern blackened by flames and smoke.

Although most have not resulted in any casualties, the string of accidents and fires has heightened concerns about the ability of megaships to handle emergencies or large-scale evacuations at sea. Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, Democrat of West Virginia, introduced legislation this summer that would strengthen federal oversight of cruise lines’ safety procedures and consumer protections.

Cruise operators point out that bigger ships have more fire safety equipment, and contend they are safer. After a fire aboard the Carnival Splendor three years ago, Carnival adopted new training procedures and added safety features that it says helped with the rapid detection and suppression of the fire on the Triumph.

After the Triumph fire, Carnival also announced it would spend $700 million to improve its safety operations, including $300 million on its fleet of 24 Carnival Cruise Lines ships. Carnival is the largest cruise operator, owning about half of all cruise ships worldwide.

“We have over time improved the safety of our vessels by better training and better technology and learning from incidents that have happened over the years,” said Mark Jackson, Carnival’s vice president for technical operations, who joined the company in January after 24 years with the Coast Guard.

Some experts doubt that ships can grow much larger than the current behemoths, marvels of naval engineering that combine the latest technology and entertainment. Today’s biggest ship, Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas, has 2,706 rooms, 16 decks, 22 restaurants, 20 bars and 10 hot tubs, as well as a shopping mall, a casino, a water park, a half-mile track, a zip line, mini golf and Broadway-style live shows. It can accommodate nearly 6,300 passengers and 2,394 crew members — the equivalent of a small town towering over the clear blue waters of the Caribbean Sea. It measures 1,188 feet long. Its sister ship, the Oasis of the Seas, is two inches shorter.

Experts point out that larger ships have larger challenges. For instance, they have fewer options in an emergency, said Michael Bruno, dean of the engineering school at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J., and former chairman of the National Research Council’s Marine Board.

“Given the size of today’s ships, any problem immediately becomes a very big problem,” he said. “I sometimes worry about the options that are available.”

A recent report by the Coast Guard on the Splendor fire revealed glaring problems with the crew’s firefighting abilities as well as failures in fire safety equipment.

The investigation did not address the size of the ship, which carried 3,299 passengers. But it showed that big vessels can quickly become crippled by small fires that disable complex systems. No passengers were hurt, but the damage to the engine room was severe, disabling the ship’s power and forcing it to be towed to port in San Diego.

The investigation found a wide range of problems with the engine’s maintenance history as well as missing fire safety records. No fire drills had been conducted in the engine room for six months. Emergency sprinklers were turned off by mistake and then doused the wrong parts of the engine room. Believing the fire had been contained, the captain vented the engine room to clear out the smoke. He reignited the fire instead.

These incidents have brought new attention to the behavior of cruise operators. Rear Adm. Joseph Servidio, the Coast Guard’s assistant commandant for prevention policy, said at a Senate hearing in July that the three fires, including the one aboard the Splendor, “highlight serious questions about the design, maintenance and operation of fire safety equipment on board these vessels, as well as their companies’ safety management cultures.”

In July, the Coast Guard said cruise ships would need to conduct periodic engine-room fire drills.

The risks of building bigger ships became apparent over a decade ago, as cruise companies pushed the limits of naval architecture. The head of the International Maritime Organization, the United Nations agency in charge of marine regulations, warned in 2000 of the growing hazards of building larger ships and called for a comprehensive review of safety rules, known as Safety of Life at Sea, or Solas. William O’Neil, the group’s secretary general at the time, said the industry could not “rely on luck holding indefinitely.”

One result was a set of new global regulations in 2010 called the Safe Return to Port rules. Those require new ships to have sufficient redundant systems, including power and steerage, to allow them to return to port even in the worst emergency. Only about 10 ships built since then comply with this new rule.

“The idea is that a ship is its own best lifeboat,” said John Hicks, the vice president for global passenger ships at Lloyds Register, the largest ship classification society. “The idea is to do everything to keep the crew and passengers on a vessel.”

Bud Darr, the senior vice president for technical and regulatory affairs at the Cruise Lines International Association, the industry’s trade group, said today’s ships operated under layers of oversight.

The Coast Guard inspects each ship that calls at United States ports at least once a year and enforces national and international norms. Private auditors, hired by cruise operators, perform frequent safety reviews, including comprehensive annual checks that last seven to 10 days, he said, and flag countries like the Bahamas or Panama, where most cruise ships are registered, provide their own oversight.

“We are subject to very close scrutiny,” Mr. Darr said. “The standards are universal.”

But incidents like the Costa Concordia grounding have raised questions about whether evacuation regulations are still applicable in the age of megaships. Under the Solas regulations, for instance, passengers grouped at their muster stations must be able to evacuate on lifeboats within 30 minutes of an evacuation alarm.

The investigation into the Costa Concordia revealed that the crew and its captain failed to sound the general evacuation alarm for more than an hour after rocks had breached the hull. As a result, some lifeboats could not be lowered once the ship started to list.

After the accident, cruise operators said they would change muster drill procedures. Instead of holding a drill for passengers within 24 hours of departure, cruise ships said they would do so before ships leave a port.

While ships are becoming bigger, the burden on crew members is growing. The Queen Elizabeth 2, which was launched in 1969, had one crew member for about 1.8 passengers. On the Triumph, the ratio was one crew member for every 2.8 passengers. The issue is also complicated by language and communication problems, and a high crew turnover rate that can reach 35 percent a year.

The International Transport Workers’ Federation, which represents seafarers and crew members, has expressed concerns about the evacuation time and suggested the need to limit the number of people aboard ships, depending on where they operate and what search-and-rescue facilities are available.

“Experience has cast doubt on the adequacy of existing lifesaving appliances,” the group said in a report. “The current equipment, especially lifeboats and life rafts, has proved to be inadequate when confronted with high sea states.”

Safety rules also state that lifeboats should not carry more than 150 people. But the two largest ships, the Allure of the Seas and the Oasis of the Seas, have much bigger lifeboats, for 370 people, because of a provision of the 2010 rules that allows for exemptions if the cruise line can demonstrate an equivalent level of safety.

Those bigger lifeboats have only enough room for passengers. To evacuate the more than 2,300 crew members, the ships are equipped with inflatable rafts that would have to be entered through 59-foot evacuation chutes.

“The simple problem is they are building them too big and putting too many people aboard,” said Capt. William H. Doherty, a former safety manager for Norwegian Cruise Lines, the world’s third-largest cruise operator, and now the director of maritime relations at the Nexus Consulting Group. “My answer is they probably exceeded the point of manageability.”

He added, “The magnitude of the problem is much bigger than the cruise industry wants to acknowledge.”

Now there’s an icon, Charleston.

The Oct. 20 Post and Courier Commentary page hit home on two counts: Alan Farago’s call for cruise regulations and Clemson President James Barker’s vision of the proposed Clemson Architecture Center at Meeting and George streets.

Having just returned from my fifth river cruise, with a post-stay in Prague, I agree wholeheartedly with Mr. Farago.

The continuing unabated growth of cruise tourism will surely affect Charleston’s character, its quality of life and the environment.

The Charleston peninsula is simply too small to accommodate mammoth ships and hordes of passengers arriving and departing via personal automobiles.

Building the terminal in downtown Charleston would be a huge mistake.

Why can’t Mayor Joe Riley see that the sensible location for the cruise terminal is at the shipyard in North Charleston or across the river in Mount Pleasant?

Cruise passengers are accustomed to being bused to the day’s venue, often at some distance. It’s part of the adventure.

And to Mr. Barker’s desire for the proposed Clemson Architecture Center to become an architectural landmark in the city, I suggest he go back to the drawing board.

The low-level expanse of glass will quickly fill with potted plants, cluttered desks, dangling wires and the backs of computers — not a pretty view from the outside-in.

State of the art it may currently be, but an inspiring icon it will never be.

Let Clemson design an eye-popping, jaw-dropping, aah-arousing building that will have every tourist snapping a photo and buying a postcard, such as Prague’s amazing Dancing House completed in 1996 on a historical site destroyed in WWII. Now there’s an icon, Charleston.

Rose Hutchinson

Indigo Lane

Goose Creek

The case for regulating cruise ship access to heritage ports – please Charleston, take heed!

As a former resident of Key West and activist interested in protecting the environment and quality of life, I have been closely following the debate regarding cruise industry regulation in Charleston. I am writing to say “Please, Charleston! Learn from the mistakes made by others and protect your city. There is no going back once you move forward.”

On Oct. 1, voters in Key West, Fla., defeated a plan that would have led to vastly more cruise ship passengers. The margin of defeat was nearly three-to-one. Voters came from different points of view; some environmental, some fed up with endless overcrowding, but 74 percent agreed that the cruise ship industry has harmed the island’s quality of life.

Over the past half century, the cruise ship industry has matured into a global leviathan, transporting passengers to every exotic locale on the planet with a port to handle passengers.

But what happens to the places and the people themselves, who live in cruise ports? And beyond the question of people, what happens to the cultural fabric of a place when cruise ships disgorge hundreds of thousands, or millions of people, on a place?

Further growth fundamentally alters the balance of commerce in many of the world’s unique and special places. Trinket shops serving cruise ship customers have pushed out local businesses on every principal route in the city. Indifferent mass market retail outlets cast an ugly shadow on street scenes. New jobs created come at the expense of many others.

The numbers of visitors simply overwhelm the local culture that was the attraction in the first place. What survives in its place is a hybrid, manufactured experience that retains the outward appearance of the original culture, but is otherwise wholly re-fitted to serve a transient mass market.

The erosion of heritage caused by cruise ships is inescapable. Cities like Miami and Fort Lauderdale essentially become pass-through locations, bearing the weight of services with little benefit to the local tax base.

In Venice, the costs of maintaining an island economy, under stress from rising seas and commerce depending on boat transportation for every activity, are difficult enough. But the essential character of the place has been infected by a kind of lassitude.

The industry’s profit model is to “feed them like crazy, let them out for a walk in port to buy a T-shirt, but return them from port to spend more back on board.” Letting passengers out for air is what cruise ships do, people with only a passing knowledge of the places they visit, but for the culture they overwhelm, there is no relief.

The default rebuttal of the cruise ship industry and its assorted parts is that they are only providing what the market wants — supply and demand. But if simple economics harm the very underlying attractions of place, there ought to be government regulation.

Ocean liners in the early 20th century bore the imprimatur of romance and adventure. Is this dystopian vision of the modern version of the industry too harsh?

Can coastal communities otherwise cope with declining economies like fishing (too much demand, too little supply because pollution and failure to manage fisheries) or end-of-the-road, small scale economies that offer few opportunities for grown children?

What ought to determine outcomes, in the regulation of the cruise ship industry, is maintaining character of place and cultural fabric. These are the tangible, core features of coastal communities that have struggled, often for centuries, to maintain identity.

No one who lives in a port sought by cruise ships should fall for the argument that a rising economic tide will lift all ships.

It doesn’t happen. The industry’s belt needs tightening, and only local destinations are equipped to do it.

In Key West, for the time being, the voters just tightened the industry’s belt.

Charleston should heed Key West’s and Savannah’s examples.

Alan Farago, a former resident of Key West, lives in Coral Gables, Fla., and is president of Friends of the Everglades.

Call on Carnival to Shape Up or SHIP OUT!

Friends of the Earth’s just-released 2013 Cruise Ship Report Card grades 16 cruise lines and 162 ships on their environmental practices, and once again Carnival Cruise Lines gets a failing grade for its treatment of the ocean.

With 22 ships using 30-year-old sewage treatment technology, Carnival has the worst impact on our oceans of any other cruise line. The U.S. EPA has found that sewage treated with this old technology often contains significant amounts of fecal bacteria, heavy metals, and nutrients in excess of federal water quality standards.

Click here to call on Carnival Cruise Lines to shape up and install better sewage treatment systems on its ships.

But Carnival’s problems don’t end there. In June Carnival announced plans to leave the Port of Baltimore and move the Carnival Pride ship back to Florida. This is in response to new, life-saving air quality standards that would require it to use cleaner fuels. By sailing from Florida they can burn more cheap ‘bunker fuel’ that is 2,000 times dirtier than diesel fuel sold at gas stations.

And if that weren’t enough, according to a New York Times report by David Leonhardt: “Over the last five years, the company [Carnival Corp.] has paid total corporate taxes — federal, state, local and foreign — equal to only 1.1 percent of its cumulative $11.3 billion in profits.”

Carnival has no excuses.  It can afford to stop polluting our oceans.

Other cruise lines have stepped up and retrofitted the majority of their fleets with advanced sewage treatment systems and yet Carnival keeps launching ships that rely on antiquated technology to treat its sewage. Together we can send them a message a make a difference for the oceans.

Sincerely,
Marcie Keever,
Oceans and vessels program director,
Friends of the Earth

Ports Authority appeals federal judge’s decision on cruise terminal

The S.C. State Ports Authority is seeking to appeal a federal judge’s recent decision that forces the Army Corps of Engineers to further review the agency’s proposed $35 million cruise terminal in downtown Charleston.

Lawyers for the state’s maritime agency filed a notice late Thursday that they are appealing to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va.

 

 

In September, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Gergel ordered the Army Corps to redo the study that gave a permit for SPA to build the new cruise terminal at Union Pier. Gergel ordered the Army Corps to go back and review the project more thoroughly.

“By filing the notice of appeal to the fourth circuit court of appeals, the Ports Authority is proceeding with the process provided by law for a new review of the Corps’ authorization for the additional pilings at its marine terminal,” SPA spokeswoman Erin Pabst said in a written statement.

The Coastal Conservation League and the Preservation Society of Charleston filed the case after the Army Corps issued a permit allowing five pilings to be driven on the waterfront.

The pilings are needed to help transform an existing warehouse into the new passenger building.

The opposition groups have said the agency didn’t take into account the impact on historic properties.

The SPA, which has joined the lawsuit as a defendant, has been seeking to relocate its cruise terminal to the north end of Union Pier from the south end for about three years.

The federal case is one of three lawsuits opposing extended cruise operations in downtown Charleston.

Federal judge denies extension in cruise terminal lawsuit

The federal government shutdown is not cause for an extension in a lawsuit challenging a $35 million cruise terminal the State Ports Authority wants to open in downtown Charleston. In a recent ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Gergel said the shutdown doesn’t give him the authority to change a deadline coming up this week in the federal complaint. The lawsuit is challenging an Army Corps of Engineers permit for the proposed passenger building at Union Pier. The Army Corps asked Gergel this month to extend Wednesday’s deadline to respond to his order requiring the agency to go back and review the project more thoroughly. The Army Corps said in court records that the federal shutdown has caused a lapse in funding at the U.S. Department of Justice, which is representing it in the lawsuit. The Coastal Conservation League and the Preservation Society of Charleston filed the case after the Army Corps issued a permit allowing five pilings to be driven on the waterfront. The pilings are needed to help transform an existing warehouse into the new passenger building.

The opposition groups have said the agency didn’t take into account the impact on historic properties. Gergel agreed. In September, he ordered the Army Corps to redo the study with a more extensive review of the effects on the environment and historic properties. The ports authority, which has joined the lawsuit as a defendant, has been seeking to relocate its cruise terminal to the north end of Union Pier from the south end for about three years. The complaint before Gergel is one of three lawsuits targeting cruise-ship operations in downtown Charleston.

Reach Tyrone Richardson at 937-5550 and follow him on Twitter @tyrichardsonPC.

F for Carnival Fantasy

Friends of the Earth has just released its Cruise Line Report Card for 2013, which can be viewed by clicking here.

This year’s Report Card compares the environmental footprint of 16 major cruise lines and 162 cruise ships, in order to help vacationers decide which cruise to take based on a cruise ship or cruise line’s environmental and human health impacts.
The Carnival Fantasy, for the fifth year in a row, earned an overall grade of an “F.” Carnival Cruise Lines began homeporting the Carnival Fantasy (the oldest ship in its fleet) in Charleston beginning in 2010.

The ship’s grade is the result of the following:

  • The ship lacks the most advanced sewage and wastewater treatment systems available, and instead dumps minimally treated sewage directly into the water.
  • The ship is not retrofitted to plug in to shorepower, and instead runs polluting engines when docked in the heart of our downtown area.
  • The ship utilizes higher sulfur fuels continuously.

Carnival Cruise Lines as a whole earned an overall grade of a “C-.” This is an improvement from prior grades over the years. Carnival Cruise Lines has 24 ships, and only two of those ships have advanced sewage treatment systems. The line has one ship operating in Alaska, and during the graded year received four citations from Alaskan authorities for violations of the state’s water pollution standards.
It is also important to distinguish that Carnival Corporation, the world’s largest cruise holder, owns nearly half of the lines in this report, not just Carnival Cruise Lines.

Updates on Venice and Key West

We recently updated both the Venice and Key West pages with information pertaining to their “battles” for cruise ship regulation. Please check them out and notice how each mirror what we face in Charleston!

Click for Venice

Click for Key West

Don’t ruin city, letter to the editor 10/5/13

Don’t ruin city

I live in Houston, and have made numerous trips to Charleston to be treated time after time to the most pleasant, lovely, historically fascinating, gentle and delightful city in America. I have lodged in hotels downtown, in private homes, and at Middleton Place, and dined in many of your fine restaurants. I cannot say enough about the attractiveness of Charleston.
You are about to ruin this idyllic city with cruise ships. You have a sophisticated city with much appeal to thoughtful travelers who don’t care to jostle on crowded sidewalks with hordes of tourists whose main interest is buying another trinket or a beer.

For the sake of Charleston, don’t let cruise ships make your city a tawdry place. Keep it what it has been for centuries, an historical magnet for the discerning visitor who comes to Charleston for several days, and sometimes weeks.

We spend real money in your fine hotels and restaurants, and some of us may eventually choose to live in Charleston. Don’t spoil it with cruise ships. If you do, we won’t come back, and a treasure will be lost.

Christian N. Seger

Ivanhoe Street

Houston, Texas

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