The State Ports Authority has won another round in court regarding its planned passenger terminal.
But it is losing in the court of credibility with the public by using such legal rulings to avoid doing two things that are clearly the right things to do.
The SPA will not commit to installing shoreside power for cruise ships to use while at dock.
Even Charleston City Council has indicated its concern about air pollution from cruise ships. And both the state and the county medical societies have called for shoreside power on behalf of public health.
Further, the SPA refuses to sign a memorandum of agreement that it will not increase the size or number of cruise-ship calls in Charleston.
SPA president/CEO Jim Newsome has given his word that he won’t grow the cruise business without first informing the city.
Why not an official limit?
Establishing one would defuse a lot of the angst people have about cruise ships and the burdens they put on historic Charleston. Crowding. Noise. Visual insult. And threats to the health of people and to the environment.
And why not agree to shoreside power, which is the present gold standard for reducing air emissions?
Why won’t a state agency do what is best for citizens of that very state?
An agency that considers itself part of Team South Carolina would want healthy neighbors. It would openly discuss where a new terminal should go.
It shouldn’t take a court order for the SPA to do what’s right.
Indeed, while S.C. Administrative Law Judge Ralph Anderson III ruled last Friday against a coalition of neighborhood associations preservation organizations and conservationists challenging the plan for the terminal, he didn’t say their concerns were wrong.
In essence he said that those who filed the suit were no different from others whose health is in jeopardy because of air emissions from cruise ships.
That might make sense to lawyers, but the public is reasonable to ask why the SPA operates in a way that affects so many people negatively.
Further, Judge Anderson said that the law doesn’t apply to what might happen, only what has happened. So to suggest that more and larger cruise ships visiting Charleston would mean more pollution, more crowding and diminished property values is not admissible. It might not happen.
But again the public is reasonable to fear such an increase and the ills it would bring. Ports around the globe have taken such courses to the detriment of their host cities.
And again, the SPA, which doesn’t intend to grow the cruise business, could put the public’s minds at rest by agreeing to reasonable, enforceable limits.
The State Ports Authority has an economic mission: to grow and to serve more business and industry.
But it is a state agency, and there’s something wrong when a state agency, given the opportunity to do the right thing for the public, chooses not to.