BY Tyrone Richardson
Posted: February 27, 2014
Both sides in the debate over cruise ship emissions claimed victories after Charleston City Council approved a resolution in support of equipping pleasure vessels with a shoreside power source “if needed” after a new passenger terminal opens.
Jim Newsome, the State Ports Authority’s chief executive, said Tuesday that the 10-2 vote was an endorsement that the maritime agency is “doing what is best to improve air quality in the harbor.”
Those seeking shoreside power and opposing the site of the SPA’s proposed terminal said the city resolution bolstered their cause as well. “The vote showed we’ve turned a corner on the cruise issue,” said Katie Zimmerman, program director at the Coastal Conservation League. “A few years ago, there was a rush to build a cruise terminal with no consideration of options for reducing impacts, but now there is openness to figuring out how to get this right.”
Environmentalists and neighborhood groups have complained about air pollution coming from cruise ships that idle their engines to generate electricity while at Union Pier Terminal. Most complaints single out the Fantasy, a 25-year-old vessel based in Charleston year-round.
Groups such as the Coastal Conservation League and Charleston Communities for Cruise Control said they appreciated the city resolution, even while describing it as watered-down compared to the original proposed by Councilman William Dudley Gregorie. Gregorie’s wording didn’t include “if needed” in regard to shoreside power.
He rescinded his version for another from Mayor Joe Riley. “It doesn’t require its use, but it acknowledges the significance of the problems and the potential shore power offers to solve them,” said Dana Beach, executive director of the Charleston-based league. Zimmerman added that the focus now shifts to an Army Corps of Engineers study ordered by a judge last year as part of a federal lawsuit.
The league and the Preservation Society of Charleston filed the complaint after the Army Corps issued a permit for a $35 million cruise terminal the SPA wants to develop at the north end of Union Pier. The Army Corps was ordered to go back and assess the impact the new passenger building would have on area properties. “Options like shore power will be thoroughly examined in the federal review process for a new terminal,” Zimmerman said.
A spokeswoman for the Army Corps was not available for comment Wednesday. The Fantasy must run one of its six engines to generate electricity while in port, prompting calls for the SPA to require vessels to plug into a shoreside outlet.
The SPA has defended its measures to reduce air pollution at Union Pier. It hasn’t fully embraced the use of shoreside power, saying better, less costly options are available. Last week, the agency announced that Carnival will outfit the Fantasy with air-pollution scrubbers during a planned overhaul in October 2015. The devices are designed to reduce sulfur dioxide and have filters to trap soot. Also, the SPA will install an air-quality monitor at Union Pier.
The council resolution says the city supports the General Assembly in assuring that money is available for shore power at the new terminal if and when it’s needed. A House’s budget-writing committee recently approved up to $5 million to pay for it.
The SPA said in a statement Wednesday that its new terminal “would be equipped to handle a shore power connection, if necessary.” “The SPA has and will continue to significantly contribute to air quality improvements, and we will monitor air quality on Union Pier to ensure a true representation of the facts and full compliance with identified regulatory standards,” the statement said. “If any further action is required, that is based upon a change in standards or air quality, the maritime industry and SPA will respond appropriately.”
Carrie Agnew, executive director of the Charleston Communities for Cruise Control, said her group was pleased with the resolution, but she added that the debate over cruises isn’t over. Her organization remains “equally concerned with a more appropriate location for the new terminal other than in the heart of the Historic District,” and it is seeking a binding agreement that limits the size and number of cruise ships in Charleston, she said.
The SPA is opposed to such caps.