Archive for August 2016

Charleston does not deserve the same fate as Venice!!

PISA, Italy — A deadly plague haunts Venice, and it’s not the cholera to which Thomas Mann’s character Gustav von Aschenbach succumbed in the Nobel laureate’s 1912 novella “Death in Venice.” A rapacious tourist monoculture threatens Venice’s existence, decimating the historic city and turning the Queen of the Adriatic into a Disneyfied shopping mall.

Millions of tourists pour into Venice’s streets and canals each year, profoundly altering the population and the economy, as many native citizens are banished from the island city and those who remain have no choice but to serve in hotels, restaurants and shops selling glass souvenirs and carnival masks.

Tourism is tearing apart Venice’s social fabric, cohesion and civic culture, growing ever more predatory. The number of visitors to the city may rise even further now that international travelers are avoiding destinations like Turkey and Tunisia because of fears of terrorism and unrest. This means that the 2,400 hotels and other overnight accommodations the city now has no longer satisfy the travel industry’s appetites. The total number of guest quarters in Venice’s historic center could reach 50,000 and take it over entirely.

Just along the Grand Canal, Venice’s main waterway, the last 15 years have seen the closure of state institutions, judicial offices, banks, the German Consulate, medical practices and stores to make way for 16 new hotels.

Alarm at this state of affairs led to last month’s decision by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization to place Venice on its World Heritage in Danger list unless substantial progress to halt the degradation of the city and its ecosystem is made by next February. Unesco has so far stripped only one city of its status as a heritage site from the more than 1,000 on the list: Dresden, after German authorities ignored Unesco’s 2009 recommendations against building a bridge over the River Elbe that marred the Baroque urban ensemble. Will Venice be next to attain this ignominious status?

In its July report, Unesco’s committee on heritage sites expressed “extreme concern” about “the combination of ongoing transformations and proposed projects threatening irreversible changes to the overall relationship between the City and its Lagoon,” which would, in its thinking, erode the integrity of Venice.

Unesco’s ultimatum stems from several longstanding problems. First, the increasing imbalance between the number of the city’s inhabitants (which plummeted from 174,808 in 1951 to 56,311 in 2014, the most recent year for which numbers are available) and the tourists. Proposed large-scale development, including new deepwater navigation channels and a subway running under the lagoon, would hasten erosion and strain the fragile ecological-urban system that has grown up around Venice.

For now, gigantic cruise liners regularly parade in front of Piazza San Marco, the city’s main public square, mocking the achievements of the last 1,500 years. To mention but one, the M.S.C. Divina is 222 feet high, twice as tall as the Doge’s Palace, a landmark of the city that was built in the 14th century. At times, a dozen liners have entered the lagoon in a single day.

The inept response of the Italian authorities to the very real problems facing Venice gives little hope that this situation will change anytime soon. After the shipwreck of the Costa Concordia in January 2012 off the coast of Tuscany left 32 people dead, the Italian government ruled that megaships must stay at least two miles from shore to prevent similar occurrences in the future. But the Italian government, predictably, failed to stand up to the big money promised by the tourist companies: A loophole to that law was created just for Venice. A cruise liner running ashore in the Piazza San Marco would wreck centuries of irreplaceable history.

Furthermore, after a corruption scandal over a multibillion-dollar lagoon barrier project forced Mayor Giorgio Orsoni to resign in June 2014, he was replaced a year later by Luigi Brugnaro, a booster of Venice’s tourism. Mr. Brugnaro not only fully welcomes the gargantuan ships but has even proposed the sale of millions of dollars of art from the city’s museums to help manage Venice’s ballooning debt.

The destruction of Venice is not in Italy’s best interest, yet the authorities remain paralyzed. Local authorities — the city and the region — are at odds with the government in Rome. Regardless, they have failed to diversify the city’s economy, meaning that any changes would put the few remaining Venetians out of work. To renew Venice’s economic life, new policies are strongly needed, aimed at encouraging young people to stay in the historic city, encouraging manufacturing and generating opportunities for creative jobs — from research to universities and the art world — while reutilizing vacant buildings.

No effective provision on Venice’s behalf has been enforced so far by the Ministry of Cultural Heritage, although protection of environment and cultural heritage is among the fundamental principles of the Italian Constitution. Nor are authorities developing any project whatsoever aimed not just at preserving the monuments of Venice, but at ensuring its citizens a future worth living.

If Italy is to spare Venice from further violation by the new plague devouring its beauty and collective memory, it must first review its overall priorities and, abiding by its own Constitution, place cultural heritage, education and research before petty business.

Appeals court narrows dates for Charleston cruise ship terminal hearing

Appeals court narrows dates for Charleston cruise ship terminal hearing

David Wren
David Wren Email @David_Wren_
Aug 1 2016 2:32 pm

After months of delays, the state Court of Appeals has set a date — actually two of them — to hear arguments in a case that will determine whether the State Ports Authority gets one of the permits it needs to build a new cruise ship terminal near Charleston’s Historic District.

Lawyers from all sides said they have no conflicts that would keep them from attending a hearing on either Nov. 9 or Nov. 17, two dates the appeals court has set aside to hear arguments in the case. The court will choose one of those two dates at a later time.

This is the eighth, and apparently final, time the court has tried to schedule the case. The previous delays primarily have been because of conflicts that lawyers on both sides have had keeping them from attending the proceeding in Columbia.

A half-dozen environmental and historic preservation groups are appealing an administrative law judge’s ruling in 2014 that determined they don’t have standing to object to a state-issued construction permit for the project at the SPA’s Union Pier Terminal.

The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control granted a permit in 2012 that would let the ports authority place five additional clusters of support pilings beneath an old warehouse at the north end of the property. The maritime agency wants to invest about $35 million at the site to replace a nearby, early 1970s-era building used mostly by Carnival Cruise Lines.
Video: Raw: First Cruise Ship in 40 Years Docks in Cuba

The SPA also needs a federal permit to proceed with the project. The Army Corps of Engineers is reviewing an application for that permit. The federal agency held a public hearing on the permit in April, with a majority of those speaking and submitting written comments saying they are opposed to the project.

Army Corps spokesman Sean McBride said the agency continues to review the permit application.

In addition to a new terminal, the project would include a loading dock, parking areas, rain canopies, security fences and other items to support cruise ship operations.

Cruise ship supporters say the industry is an important part of the tourism economy and a source of jobs. The SPA has said a new terminal would improve traffic patterns and allow nearby streets to stay open during embarkation and debarkation days.

Local environmental and historic preservation groups say a new terminal would threaten the unique character of the Historic District and have negative impacts on the community, such as added congestion and pollution.

The SPA first proposed the new terminal in 2010, the same year Carnival Cruise Lines based its 2,056-passenger Fantasy cruise ship in Charleston. The Ecstasy cruise ship replaced the Fantasy this year.

Reach David Wren at 843-937-5550 or on Twitter at @David_Wren_

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August Litigation Update!

After being rescheduled more than a handful of times, our appeal of the State Port Authority’s permit to build a new cruise terminal at the north end of Union pier has now been scheduled for either November 9 or 17.  We will let you know when the date, time and place are finalized!

Please read the article posted on our website for further details (click here).

We hope many of you will save the dates, and join us in Columbia for the hearing…..

Until then, enjoy the waning days of summer–staying as cool as possible!