Archive for June 2019

SC Supreme Court Hearing

CHS | The SPA can’t be left unleashed by Jay Williams Jr.

Is the Sunshine drawing rave reviews?  Not from Charleston residents.  
 
This isn’t about the heat; this Sunshine is the third in line of ever-larger Carnival ships to be home-ported here. For one citizen “sucked into the traffic undertow” on the East Side, the 3,000-passenger Sunshine represents a chilling reminder of the negative, largely unregulated repercussions of the SC State Ports Authority’s (SPA) cruise terminal operations in Charleston.  
 
For years, the SPA has run roughshod over residents’ concerns about cruise ship pollution, noise, traffic, congestion, and illegal dumping and environmental impacts. Bringing in a newer, bigger ship that instantly increases traffic, tourists, and congestion makes everything worse—and there’s no end in sight.  These ships will get bigger.  
 
Watch the Supreme Court argument
 
Can neighboring residents rein in the SPA and reduce the harmful effects of the cruise terminal?  The South Carolina Supreme Court will hear oral argument on this decisive case at 10 a.m., June 11thin Columbia.  If you care about your rights, you need to be there.  The significance of this decision goes well beyond the cruise terminal issue.
 
For eight years the SPA has relentlessly pursued the construction of a new cruise terminal declaring that the existing terminal is inadequate and doesn’t meet Homeland Security requirements.  But to build on the harbor, it needs both federal and state permits.
 
The SPA applied for and received its federal permit.  But six years ago, after opponents filed suit to oppose it, United States District Court Judge Richard Gergel tossed the SPA’s federal permit to build a $35 million terminal at Union Pier and blasted the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for failing to adequately review the project’s effects as mandated by Congress. “I think you did an end run,” he told the Army Corps lawyers. “You gave this permit the bum’s rush.
 
“You haven’t done what the law requires you to do by reducing a 108,000 square-foot project to 41-square feet of pilings,” he said.  The federal judge also referenced evidence contained in a 1,200-page filing that the new terminal is being designed for larger ships than now call here, and that the new terminal could more than triple the number of cruise passengers visiting the city.  
 
The Army Corps is expected to render its revised decision later this year.
 
South Carolina has a parallel permitting role.  The SPA got a state permit for a new cruise terminal from DHEC, the SC Department of Health and Environmental Control.  Once again, that permit was challenged– this time the result was different.  

Administrative Law Judge Ralph King Anderson III ruled that thecitizens’ group plaintiffs which included environmental, historic preservation, and neighborhood groups, “lacked standing” and couldn’t challenge DHEC’s approval of the permits. The groups appealed, but the SC Court of Appeals sided with Judge Anderson, forcing them to make a final appeal to the SC Supreme Court.
 
Blan Holman, managing attorney in the Southern Environmental Law Center’s Charleston office who represents some of the citizens’ groups said, “On June 11th, the Supreme Court will hold oral argument on whether neighbors have any standing to challenge the lawfulness of permits issued for a new cruise terminal that would be located right next door to them.  Lower courts held that neighbors do not have standing because the injuries are felt by too many people. 
 
“We contend that injury to more than one person does not render a permit unchallengeable.  If anything it should require stricter review. The hearing is open to the public so that those interested can see the wheels of justice in motion. The court won’t rule at the hearing, but will issue an order some number of months down the road.”
 
Many observers suggest that there are broader citizens’ rights issues involved.
 
Attorney Holman agrees, “The issue before the Supreme Court goes to the right of families and property holders across South Carolina to contest unlawful pollution permits. If a person who physically experiences soot pollution first-hand at her home has no standing, then it is hard to imagine who would ever have standing. That should be a concern statewide since it would limit citizens’ rights to contest permits for toxic waste facilities, sewage plants, nuclear sites — you name it.”
 
The cruise industry powerhouse
 
In May, 2015, SPA CEO James Newsome told city council that the “one sector that has not grown at all is the cruise sector” citing similar passenger counts of 186,000 for both 2011 and 2015. “It’s not a growth industry, we’ve said that from the start.” He added, “The market for cruise ships in this port is not that big, it will never be that big.” Later in that speech, Newsome said that, “In 2010 … we had 67 cruise ships.” What he didn’t say was that Charleston would host 93 ships that year—an increase of almost 30-percent.
 
Perhaps CEO Newsome didn’t realize that worldwide cruise industry growth was exploding.  In 1990, four million cruisers set sail, but last year 27.2 million cruised the oceans, and 35-percent of them sail into the Caribbean.  Here in Charleston, we reached the SPA’s “voluntary limit” of 104 ships annually for the third year in a row.   
 
Cruise passenger growth distresses most downtown residents. Although the SPA voluntarily agreed to a limit of 104 ships annually with a maximum of 3,500 passengers per ship, those limits aren’t binding. A much-heralded city ordinance during Mayor Riley’s reign did not codify those limits as many had thought; it merely obligates the SPA notify the city a year in advance if it wants to exceed those “limits.”
 
As they wait for their permits, the SPA has lived up to its “voluntary limits.” But because these limits are not binding, you have to wonder what will happen if the SPA gets the permits necessary to build a new terminal.
 
Since 2011, citizens opposing the Union Pier site have proposed an elementary solution: Locate the new cruise terminal away from historic downtown. Potential sites include the underused 110-acre Veterans Terminal at the old Navy base near highways and able to handle cruise traffic without creating congestion. 
 
But the SPA has repulsed every suggestion to mitigate the negative impacts on Charleston, including moving it, adding shore power, adding a passenger fee to aid the city, developing off-site parking to reduce cruise traffic congestion, and returning some of the world’s most valuable waterfront parking lot to the city for taxable housing and development.  

Carnival is no prize either.  Since 2017, Carnival ships have been on probation by the federal government after the company admitted to “record falsification and numerous instances of prohibited discharge,” including multiple violations in Charleston waters.
 
The SPA can’t be left unleashed.  Residents must have legal rights to protect their health and property, and any cruise terminal permit must include key restrictions to protect our city.   This Supreme Court hearing could not be more important.
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CHS | A blog commentary about Charleston.  Please share with friends. Comments are always welcome – please click on the reply button. Comments, if published, will be posted anonymously.  

This column appears as “The Advocate” on page 2 of The Charleston Mercury.

Cruise ship case’ to go before state’s highest court

By Kaitlin Stansell | June 6, 2019 at 10:22 PM EDT – Updated June 6 at 11:32 PM Click to view

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) – Attorneys and community members entrenched in a legal dispute over expanding the cruise ship industry in downtown Charleston are gearing up for a hearing before the state supreme court next week.

It’s been called the “cruise ship case” as it’s made its way through the court system, and now it’s getting its day before the state’s highest judges.

Environmental groups and community advocates have challenged the SC Ports Authority and Department of Health and Environmental Control over state-issued pollution permits related to the expansion of the cruise ship terminal in downtown Charleston.

“My primary concern is with air quality,” said Tommie Robertson. She lives off Laurens Street, a neighbor to the current cruise ship pier. “That’s impacted very negatively both by the ship itself, their emissions and also by all the cars that come in. Then, there’s traffic congestion, and then there’s noise pollution.”

However, the argument has moved past environmental concerns. The focus of June 11th’s hearing will be to ask the SC Supreme Court to review and reverse a prior decision by a lower court. The plaintiffs claim the Court of Appeals shut the door on Charlestonians who aimed to appeal state-issued pollution permits for a proposed terminal.

“Do communities, community groups have the ability and the right to protect themselves from pollution, and that’s really what’s at stake,” said Amy Armstrong, the Executive Director and General Counsel for the SC Environmental Law Project. “I think that would, should be concerning to anyone. All citizens of the state of South Carolina because we all want to protect our health, our quality of life, the quality of our environment.”

The state ports authority wants to build a newer and bigger terminal to host larger ships and more of them.

By Kaitlin Stansell | June 6, 2019 at 10:22 PM EDT – Updated June 6 at 11:32 PM

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) – Attorneys and community members entrenched in a legal dispute over expanding the cruise ship industry in downtown Charleston are gearing up for a hearing before the state supreme court next week.

It’s been called the “cruise ship case” as it’s made its way through the court system, and now it’s getting its day before the state’s highest judges.

Environmental groups and community advocates have challenged the SC Ports Authority and Department of Health and Environmental Control over state-issued pollution permits related to the expansion of the cruise ship terminal in downtown Charleston.

“My primary concern is with air quality,” said Tommie Robertson. She lives off Laurens Street, a neighbor to the current cruise ship pier. “That’s impacted very negatively both by the ship itself, their emissions and also by all the cars that come in. Then, there’s traffic congestion, and then there’s noise pollution.”

However, the argument has moved past environmental concerns. The focus of June 11th’s hearing will be to ask the SC Supreme Court to review and reverse a prior decision by a lower court. The plaintiffs claim the Court of Appeals shut the door on Charlestonians who aimed to appeal state-issued pollution permits for a proposed terminal.

“Do communities, community groups have the ability and the right to protect themselves from pollution, and that’s really what’s at stake,” said Amy Armstrong, the Executive Director and General Counsel for the SC Environmental Law Project. “I think that would, should be concerning to anyone. All citizens of the state of South Carolina because we all want to protect our health, our quality of life, the quality of our environment.”

The state ports authority wants to build a newer and bigger terminal to host larger ships and more of them.

The debate isn’t against cruise ships though. Instead, it’s a fight to make sure the future of the industry in the Charleston Harbor is environmentally responsible.

“We’re only going to see more and more of this,” said Winslow Hastie with the Historic Charleston Foundation. “These issues aren’t going to go away. Again, I think the residents, the people who live closest to these impacts are the ones most directly affected and so they need to have a voice.”

The case goes before the state’s highest court on June 11th at 10 a.m. in Columbia.

A free round-trip bus ride is being offered to people wanting to join the efforts.

The bus will depart from downtown Charleston around 7:30 a.m. and arrive in Columbia at 10 a.m. Oral arguments are expected to last one to two hours.

You can reserve your seat and get more details at https://p2a.co/xE3IB2w

DHEC said the state agency doesn’t comment on pending litigation, and the state ports authority did not respond for a statement, but a spokesperson said the US Army Corps of Engineers is expected to decide on the federal permit by the end of the year.

Copyright 2019 WCSC. All rights reserved.

Commentary: Charleston residents deserve to be heard on cruise terminal

There is nothing more rewarding — or challenging — than turning a piece of Charleston’s rich history into its future.

I am proud that I was part of transforming the long-dormant Cigar Factory into a vibrant part of our economy. My partners and I hope to have similar success with the Garco Mill in Park Circle and properties in and around the old Navy Yard in North Charleston.

To me there is no big secret when it comes to successful development in Charleston. Whether renovating a historic building or erecting a new one, it is critical to stay true to our region’s charm, character and authenticity. This long-standing commitment by previous generations to the Lowcountry’s style and spirit (with a few exceptions) is why we have evolved into the economic engine we are today.

Since our character is affected by the public and private sectors, we need to take a careful look at the State Ports Authority’s plans to build a larger cruise terminal in the heart of the Historic District.

While I am not opposed to a cruise terminal and I support a healthy port, this conversation is not dissimilar to the deliberations over the hotel boom or the increased port traffic on Long Point Road or the growing pains hitting Mount Pleasant. How much is too much? What adds to our region’s charm and what detracts from it? What is the benefit and what is the harm?

The key difference is that, unlike Charleston’s hotel discussion and Mount Pleasant’s growing pains, the residents and municipalities most affected by our growing port have been told that they will have no voice in the discussion.

As a state representative it concerns me that a state agency and, so far, the lower courts have declared that the people who will be the most affected by port activity will have no standing in any permit review.

These neighbors should have a right to be heard, and the state and the SPA would be smart to listen. Our economy is diverse and has evolved into a fine-tuned machine that gets its power from the simple fact that people love living here. There can and should be a balance because government acting in a vacuum has damaging unintended consequences. And just like the neighbors of any government or private sector facility where a planned expansion will affect how they live and work, they deserve a voice. Government at all levels has a duty to listen to the people it serves and to work in good faith to address their concerns.

What is more, because the Ports Authority is a state agency, municipal leaders can do little to assuage the neighbors’ concerns. That too is wrong. I have been a strong proponent of giving more authority to local government for this exact reason. My experience in the private sector has taught me that local buy-in is what keeps this balance in order and is essential to any project’s long-term success.

When it comes to the cruise terminal, the only assurances locals have is a voluntary agreement that limits the size of ships and the number of visits per year. While I applaud the SPA’s willingness to do this, the reality is it could be canceled at any time with little to no recourse.

The Port and Carnival Cruise Line are clearly committed to making Charleston a cruising destination. And that’s a good thing. The cruise industry is part of the vibrant tourism economy that annually brings in 10 visitors for every one resident.

But tourism and the port are no longer the only drivers of our robust economy, and there needs to be a balance. We need to remember why people love the Lowcountry, and that starts with giving the people who live here a real voice in what goes on in their community. In my professional and political experience, locals usually know best and they always bring value.

William Cogswell is a Republican representing House District 110.

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Italy to Ban Large Cruise Ships from Venice

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The known “skyscrapers of the sea” will be banned from Venice’s historic center after the Italian government said that it’s ready to resolve the bitterly divisive issue that provoked an international campaign.

The government is planning to create an alternative route for the massive ships.

Those massive ships has already provoked many environmentalists and residents concerned about its impact on the Venice’s fragile environment.

Cruise ships currently pass within 1,000 feet of Venice’s St. Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco), giving passengers spectacular views.

Last year the port of Venice said that is going to ban liners of more than 96,000 tonnes but the decree was overturned by a regional tribunal.

Recently British stars Sir Michael Caine and Julie Christie joined dozens of celebrities who signed a petition in order to ban the massive cruise ships from Venice.

Now the government has restored the ban which will block all cruise ships exceeding 96,000 tonnes from Saint Mark’s basin and the Giudecca Canal from 2015 and also many visits by smaller ships of no more than 40,000 tonnes.