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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