Archive for July 2015

S.C. Supreme Court: Charleston cruise terminal fight doesn’t deserve special legal treatment

An effort to take the battle over a proposed Charleston cruise ship terminal straight to the state’s highest court has been shot down in a move that’s likely to draw out the dispute involving the State Ports Authority, neighborhood groups and preservationists.

The S.C. Supreme Court on Friday denied the SPA’s request to leapfrog the S.C. Court of Appeals. The order did not give a reason for the denial.

The SPA wanted the Supreme Court to hear an appeal over a state permit it received to build the $35 million cruise terminal, saying the issue has such significant public interest that it deserves special treatment. The maritime agency also said in court papers that whoever loses at the appeals court probably will seek to take the case to the high court, making the interim step a waste of time.

The case now will move to the S.C. Court of Appeals. Final briefings have been submitted but no hearing date has been scheduled.

Erin Dhand, spokeswoman for the SPA, said: “We appreciate the Supreme Court’s consideration and look forward to the Court of Appeals finally resolving the issues.”

The Southern Environmental Law Center, which is representing environmentalists and neighborhood groups, appealed an administrative law court’s decision last year to issue a permit that would let the SPA put more support pilings beneath a warehouse at Union Pier. That building is the proposed site of the new terminal.

Opponents of the project say it will create more pollution, noise, traffic and other quality-of-life concerns. They want cruise lines to follow municipal laws that protect the city’s environment and historic assets. Cruise ship supporters say the industry is an important part of the area’s tourism economy and a source of jobs.

The state permit was issued in 2012 by the Department of Health and Environmental Control. In the appeal of that decision, an administrative law judge said Charleston residents did not have standing to challenge the terminal’s construction.

“We look forward to having an appeals court review the administrative law judge’s decree that basically no one is entitled to contest the legality of permits issued for a $35 million leisure cruise terminal in historic Charleston,” Blan Holman, a lawyer for the Southern Environmental Law Center, said in a statement.

A separate federal permit required to build the terminal is being reviewed by the Army Corps of Engineers, which is accepting public comments through Aug. 24. The SPA last week resubmitted its permit application after a federal judge in 2013 tossed its previous application, saying it didn’t consider the terminal’s impact on the Historic District.

The latest application includes 40,000 pages of documents the SPA says address quality-of-life and other issues raised by the law center. Holman said his group will ask the Army Corps to extend the comment period because of the volume of material. There has been no decision on that request.

The SPA wants to build a new $35 million terminal to replace the 42-year-old facility that handles passengers mostly for Carnival Cruise Lines and its 2,056-passenger Fantasy ship. The new facility would be north of the existing terminal.

The SPA has agreed to limit to 104 the number of cruise ships visits to the Port of Charleston each year, and will not allow any cruise ship larger than 3,500-passenger capacity.

Reach David Wren at 937-5550 or on Twitter at @David_Wren

Air quality

  • Outdoor air testing at Union Pier continues to show no apparent relation between pollution and cruise ships.
  • Testing during the 2nd quarter showed no emissions exceeded federal standards during the 3-month period, even on days when a cruise ship was in port, according to a report from testing firm Arcadis.
  • The testing by shows the highest 24-hour average reading for nitrogen dioxide was 31.36 parts per billion, well below the Environmental Protection Agency’s air-quality standard of 100 parts per billion for outdoor air. That high reading occurred April 2, when the Carnival Fantasy was in port.
  • Sulfur dioxide levels at Union Pier hit a high of 35.59 parts per billion May 23, when no ship was in port. That is lower than the EPA’s air-quality standard of 75 parts per billion.
  • A part per billion is a way to measure tiny quantities and is roughly equivalent to a pinch of salt in 10 tons of potato chips.
  • Particulate matter — including acids such as nitrates and sulfates, organic chemicals, metals and soil or dust particles — also are well below EPA limits for the reporting period.
  • Readings from Feb. 25-March 31, the first period tested, also showed no pollution above air-quality standards at Union Pier.
  • Nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and particulate matter are among the most common pollutants from cruise ship emissions.

Alleged document dump has cruise terminal opponents crying foul

Charleston resident Stephen Gates would like more time to review documents the State Ports Authority submitted with its latest application this week for a cruise ship terminal at Union Pier.

The Army Corps on Thursday announced a 30-day period during which residents, neighborhood groups and others can comment on the permit application. It expires Aug. 24.

Gates, whose Historic District home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, said the Army Corps should extend the comment period and schedule a public hearing for the project.

Sean McBride, a spokesman for the Army Corps, said the agency has already given residents more time to review the proposal.

“Public notices are typically only issued for 15 days, but due to the nature of this permit application, we proactively issued it for 30 days,” McBride said, adding that any extension requests would be taken on a case-by-case basis.

“We have granted them in the past, typically to resource agencies that are understaffed and feel like they have valuable input,” he said.

The SPA is staying out of the comment period fray.

“The ports authority defers to the Corps’ judgment on the time for any public notice period for its permitting process,” SPA spokeswoman Erin Dhand said.

Blan Holman, a lawyer for the Southern Environmental Law Center, which is suing the SPA in an attempt to stop the terminal’s construction, said his group will ask for more review time. Holman said he’s seen the 40,000 pages of materials, and they are “a complete mess.”

The documents “appear to consist of a disorganized dump of random information and legal pleadings that the Corps and the public will have trouble navigating,” Holman said, adding there is no index or organization of the paperwork.

He said the SPA is using the documents “to shut down citizen inquiries.”

Permit primer

The SPA wants to build a new terminal to replace the 42-year-old facility that handles passengers mostly for Carnival Cruise Lines and its 2,056-passenger Fantasy ship.

The SPA has asked for permission to install five additional clusters of pilings beneath an old Union Pier warehouse north of the existing terminal that will be renovated as a new facility. Environmentalists and neighborhood groups say the new terminal will create more pollution, noise, traffic and other quality-of-life concerns. They want cruise lines to follow municipal laws that protect the city’s environment and historic assets. And they want an environmental impact study to be completed before any construction takes place.

Cruise ship supporters say the industry is an important part of the tourism economy and a source of jobs

The SPA previously tried to get a federal permit for the terminal, but that application was tossed out by a federal judge in 2013 because it did not consider the terminal’s impact on the city’s Historic District.

A separate lawsuit over a permit issued by the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control is pending, with final briefings submitted to the state’s Court of Appeals but no hearing date scheduled.

Dhand said terminal opponents have had plenty of time to review the documentation.

“The vast majority of those documents are the discovery documents from the DHEC permit litigation, which means that, at least for the cruise opponents, all of those documents have been available for review for well over a year, and for some documents over two years,” Dhand said.

“While the administrative record supporting the permit review is voluminous, I think it is important to note that the project under review is the same project that the Corps previously reviewed and that DHEC permitted in 2012,” she said.

McBride said the 40,000 pages aren’t readily available for public review. To actually see them, someone would have to file a Freedom of Information Act request. What is publicly available is a 15-page notice that “provides a summation of a few pages of what we felt like the public would need to know for them to make a comment,” McBride said.

The notice includes technical drawings and an outline of the pilings installation process, but it does not say what impact the terminal will have on quality of life in the Historic District. The Army Corps says it will consult with national and state historic preservation offices — and other groups that wish to be heard, if they respond within the 30-day period — “to gather additional information about the project site and the surrounding area to inform an effects determination.”

Port haters?

The new cruise terminal has been a contentious issue ever since the SPA first proposed it five years ago.

Holman said the SPA has branded residents who don’t like the cruise ships as enemies, even though many of them support the port’s cargo operations.

Jim Newsome, the authority’s CEO, said in an email that is part of the 40,000 pages of documents that opponents can’t have it both ways.

“I would say that these people do not hate cruise and love the port, they hate the very idea of us being a port,” Newsome said in an email seeking advice on the issue from a public relations expert. “It’s like saying you love dogs but you do not ever plan to feed them because they might (relieve themselves) on the rug.”

Newsome has said he’s tried to accommodate Historic District residents with a self-imposed limit of 104 cruise ship visits annually and no ship larger than 3,500-passenger capacity. He says the Charleston market isn’t big enough to handle anything more than that.

Newsome also has bristled at environmentalists’ suggestion that the cruise terminal be moved farther north to the Columbus Street Terminal — “We need every acre of space on this terminal for freight,” he said in April — and proposals that electric shore power devices be installed to reduce emissions while ships are in port.

Limited outdoor air testing at Union Pier shows no pollution above federal guidelines, even when a cruise ship is in port.

Gates, the Charleston resident with a historic home just blocks from the terminal, said he is undeterred in his opposition. But he adds that residents and the SPA should be on a level playing field when it comes to voicing their opinions.

“Public citizens should not be disadvantaged by this inundation of material,” he said.

Reach David Wren at 937-5550 or on Twitter at @David_Wren_

Army Corps opens public comment period for Charleston cruise terminal permit

The Army Corps of Engineers issued a public notice Thursday that could reactivate plans for a new cruise ship terminal at Union Pier in downtown Charleston.

To read the public notice go to www.sac.usace.army.mil and go to the “Public Notices” section.

The public can comment in writing and request a hearing on the State Ports Authority’s permit request until Aug. 24.

The SPA is proposing to build the $35 million terminal. It said this week that it has provided the Army Corps with about 40,000 pages of material to address concerns downtown residents and environmental groups have raised about pollution, noise and other quality-of-life issues.

The permit would allow five additional clusters of pilings beneath an old Union Pier warehouse that will be renovated as a new terminal north of the existing facility. A federal judge tossed out the SPA’s previous permit application in 2013, saying it did not consider the terminal’s impact on the city’s Historic District.

A separate lawsuit over a state-issued permit is pending.

First proposed five years ago, the new terminal would replace a 42-year-old building that handles cruises for Carnival Cruise Lines’ 2,056-passenger Fantasy ship, as well as other pleasure vessels. Carnival’s Ecstasy, which has newer amenities but the same passenger capacity, will call the Port of Charleston home beginning in February.

Mayoral Candidate Ginny Deerin’s thoughts on some issues in Charleston

1) Cruise Ships

Below is Ginny’s position on tourism / cruise ships as published in Mercury. I’ve also included a link with all the candidates’ responses.

Ginny Deerin

Our city has become a top tourist destination because we are one of the most beautiful, interesting and vibrant cities in the world. Yet, if we are not thoughtful and deliberate in our planning, Charleston could become a victim of our own success. The recent Tourism Management Plan is a step in the right direction and will help preserve our unique character. It will work to reduce congestion, which is critical for our quality of life. Broadly, we need to highlight attractions beyond the lower Peninsula. Introducing tourists to other parts of Charleston should be a priority. We need to ensure that our city remains a place Charlestonians thrive in, not just a place tourists want to visit.

There are serious differences among the mayoral candidates, when it comes to cruise ship concerns. The port has enormous value to our city, but the current size, frequency and environmental impacts of cruise ships are damaging. Mandating shore side power will help protect our environment. Moving the site of the new passenger terminal outside of the already congested historic district should be reconsidered. I have experience working with others to foster consensus — and would engage with all relevant stakeholders to achieve a better outcome for the city of Charleston.

LINK: http://www.charlestonmercury.com/index.php/en/news/14-politics/518-mayoral-candidates-on-the-issues-tourism

2) Sgt Jasper

Couple things here.

First, I checked back on recent articles. Thankfully, I didn’t see any press incorrectly reporting that Ginny had campaign money from the Beach Company. As mentioned yesterday – Ginny has not taken a campaign contribution from the Beach Company. We’re pretty clear on this principle… When the Beach Company tried to donate, our campaign said No Thanks and mailed back their check. (if you happen to hear anything to the contrary moving forward, I’d love to know so we can set the record straight)

Second, below is a link to Ginny’s statement on the Beach Co’s latest Sgt Jasper:

http://ginnyformayor.com/news/jasper

3) Contribution Info
Lastly – I wanted to send along information for a contribution – you give online or by check:

You can give online at GinnyForMayor.com/Donate

You can make a check payable to “Ginny Deerin for Mayor”  and mail it to: Ginny Deerin for Mayor, PO Box 32072, Charleston, SC 29417.

Port Love | If You Were Mayor

Port Love

Jun 30, 2015 by Whitney Powers

We applaud the Ports Authority for their $5 million investment to be used for the purchase and protection of land along the Cooper River watershed to mitigate the potential effects of deepening Charleston Harbor. The agreement, made earlier this year, was reached in collaboration with the Lowcountry Open Land Trust, the Coastal Conservation League, and the Southern Environmental Law Center. This type of cooperative work can make our city and port even better.

 

SOME HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

The port has existed here for virtually as long as the settlement of Charleston.  Today, the port consists of five public marine terminals and is owned and operated by the South Carolina Ports Authority (SCPA), a self-governing entity created by the South Carolina General Assembly in 1942, with board members appointed by the state’s Governor and confirmed by the State Senate.

 

The historical significance of the port is illustrated by Charleston’s colorful maritime history, with many of the city’s earliest historic structures having been constructed as businesses associated with port operations – cooperages (barrels are the original “containers”), smithies, stevedoring companies, warehouses, etc.  The city’s historic waterfront, now a public promenade and park, was once marked by numerous wharfs, hundreds of masts of sailing vessels, shipbuilding, and provisioning operations. If other myths hold any truth, numerous of the city’s earliest streets and walks were constructed from ballast recycled from ships loaded with items destined for global destinations, including indigo, rice, and cotton.

 

This early Charleston invited people of many backgrounds, often unwelcome in other parts of the world, who found their way here for economic opportunities – French, Scottish, Irish, and German, as well as Jews and Catholics. Sephardic Jews (of Spanish and Portugese ancestry) migrated to the city in such numbers that Charleston became one of the largest Jewish communities in North America (see maritimeheritage.org). From the late 18th through the 19th century Charleston also served as the most active port in the trade of slaves in America, and many Africans, free and slave, lived here outnumbering white residents by a long shot. (see this animated map illustrating the slave trade that is generated from data at slavevoyages.org).

 

THE PRESENT

Today, the port’s focus is the movement of containerized shipments and passenger vehicles; and, it consistently ranks in the top 5 of the nation’s containerized ports. Jobs at the port have long been a fundamental source of well-paying, stable jobs in the Charleston region as evidenced by the success represented by the members of such organizations as the International Longshoremen’s Association and the Charleston Branch Pilots Association. Basically, its operations employ “hundreds of thousands” and generate “in excess of $45 billion per year” in economic impacts.

 

The port’s mission, as one would expect, is largely focused on the bottom-line, especially as it faces fierce competition from other nearby ports in Savannah and Jacksonville:

“The South Carolina Ports Authority (SCPA) promotes, develops, and facilitates waterborne commerce to meet the current and future needs of its customers, and for the economic benefit of the citizens and businesses of South Carolina. The SCPA fulfills this mission by delivering cost competitive facilities and services, collaborating with customers and stakeholders, and sustaining its financial self-sufficiency.”

 

Sometimes, adherence to this mission runs up against the interests of many who live in proximity to port facilities. The Port Authority has made many efforts to be responsive to local concerns, but with growth in cruise ship traffic in recent years, the local population has increasingly questioned the port’s intentions and its future. Port officials point to their efforts at downtown’s Union Pier to modernize the passenger terminal facilities, including development of parking facilities and completing road connectivity in the vicinity, to mitigate impacts of the embarkation of cruise ships. The community calls for more controls, including the use of shore power when in port and limitations on the number of cruise ship visits during the course of the year. The port recognizes that cultivating and fostering the community is key to the success of its cruise business. However, at this stage, the back-and-forth has mired everyone in lawsuits and there is frustration on all sides.

 

AN EXAMPLE FROM ABROAD

A year ago, I traveled to Amsterdam with my daughter and visited the National Maritime Museum of the Netherlands, Het Scheepvaartmuseum. Recognizing that Rotterdam was the largest container port outside of China, I was curious how this museum portrayed this vital industry through their history and how they reconciled this history with the future. The historic exhibits were fascinating – the Dutch essentially invented the concept of container transport – and, in one instance, frightening. Slave Trade: The Dark Chapter (see NYTimes review here), underscored that trade’s horrors through installations focused on the slave ship Leusden which sank in Suriname, South America, in 1738. After the ship ran aground, the ship’s captain ordered the “cargo” to be secured in the hold to ensure the investors received an insurance settlement for the loss, and almost 700 African men, women, and children drowned. If there was one thing you could take away from the exhibit, the Dutch do not shirk the dark side of their shipping history.

 

The final exhibit in the museum, a film projection, took visitors on to the docks and aboard ship from the point of view of a container, and focused on aspects of shipping that Rotterdam uses to distinguish its competitive edge: efficiency, safety, and sustainability.

 

This seems an interesting triumvirate to success, and is reflected in the port’s strategic plan, Port Compass 2030 (a synopsis in English is here). This document, developed in cooperation with the municipal government, port business association, provincial government, and national government, focuses on ten priorities ranging from infrastructure development to cultivating education geared towards employment. An annual report keeps all stakeholders informed as to the progress (or lack of progress) in each category.

 

Digging a bit more, one finds a somewhat different mission statement than that of the SCPA: “The Port of Rotterdam Authority develops, in partnership, the world-class European port.”  The port’s website corroborates the exhibit’s message: “We continuously improve the Port of Rotterdam, to make it the most efficient, safe, and sustainable port in the world…”

 

THE FUTURE 

Theirs may seem a rather basic inconclusive mission, but there is also a distinction in Rotterdam’s governance that might be a more significant clue to how Charleston’s port might consider serving the community interests along with those commercial goals of the state: “The Port of Rotterdam Authority is an autonomous company with two shareholders, the municipality of Rotterdam and the Dutch state.”

 

Could the South Carolina Ports Authority in Charleston benefit from a Board of Directors that includes representatives who serve at the behest of the communities most impacted by the port operations? A thriving Charleston benefits most from a thriving, economically viable port relationship. It might be time to consider more ways to deepen the ties that bind us to our historic port, cultivate more ways to foster the resources that we share, and find economic opportunities that can create a competitive edge that is distinctive and adds value for the port’s customers.