Independent and Objective Economic Report Commissioned by Historic Charleston Foundation: The Cruise Industry in Charleston: A Clear Perspective

Publisher: Historic Charleston Foundation
Date: 02/08/2012
Website: The Cruise Industry in Charleston: A Clear Perspective (pdf)

Since early 2010, Historic Charleston Foundation has facilitated inclusive community dialogue concerning the landside impacts of the cruise industry, relating specifically to the historic district of downtown Charleston. The Foundation’s most recent advocacy work includes commissioning an independent report on the economic impacts of the cruise industry in Charleston. The report provides an objective analysis and perspective on the economic impacts of the cruise industry to the City, providing the community fact-based statistics on which to make informed decisions.

The Foundation researched economic firms in March 2011, and hired Miley & Associates, Inc., a well-known economic consulting firm in South Carolina and the author of other high profile economic impact reports. The Foundation-commissioned report is titled The Cruise Industry in Charleston: A Clear Perspective.

Recognizing the significance of the State Ports Authority to Charleston and the state of South Carolina, this report clarifies the key issues concerning the City of Charleston and its residents. This report also considers the costs of the cruise industry to the City of Charleston and provides the community with findings related to: trends in the cruise industry, its economic impacts, as well as opportunity costs and quality-of-life issues inherent to the cruise industry in Charleston’s historic district.

“Because some of the impacts accrue to surrounding cities and towns, the direct economic impact on the City of Charleston’s historic district is minor,” said Harry Miley, President of Miley & Associates, Inc. “While the State Ports Authority is a major employer in the state of South Carolina, the recommendation to limit the volume and size of the cruise industry would not affect any jobs related to the existing cruise business in Charleston today.”

The report addresses some of the benefits of the industry as well as some of the risks, such as:

–  A visitor staying in Charleston spends a longer time and more money than the typical cruise ship visitor.  If the cruise business becomes too large it could displace other visitors to Charleston.
–  The industry typically attempts to maximize the spending by the passengers onboard the ship and minimize the spending by the passengers when they are off the ship.
–  The hotels that are most impacted are not in the City of Charleston.
–  The potential for spending in the City by Carnival passengers is relatively limited due to the timing of embarking and disembarking of passengers.

“Details of the scheduling and logistics of passengers and suppliers coupled with the extremely efficient operating techniques of the cruise industry leave little room for positive economic impacts on the City,” said Miley. “This report estimates that the State Ports Authority will collect as much as $10 million in parking and head tax fees in a typical year from the cruise industry. None of these revenues goes to the City of Charleston.”

The report concludes with several recommendations:

–  The City should ensure that the cruise industry is managed and controlled, as are virtually all other attractions and activities governed by the City.
–  As a major stakeholder in the process, the City should become more involved with the negotiations with the cruise industry and the State Ports Authority.
–  The City should negotiate with the State Ports Authority and cruise industry to impose a reasonable passenger fee to help offset costs that the City may incur serving the cruise industry. With these funds, the City should create an “Infrastructure Fund” to offset the cost of infrastructure improvements that will be required for the redevelopment of the southern portion of Union Pier and the special initiatives presented in the Union Pier Concept Plan. Such improvements could benefit the cruise industry as well as other sectors of the local economy.

To read the executive summary of The Cruise Industry in Charleston: A Clear Perspective, visit Funding for this objective report was made possible in part through a contribution by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The Foundation will continue to work toward the provision of a productive solution to the quality of life in Charleston as it has over the past two years on the subject. For more information and a timeline of the Foundation’s advocacy efforts, visit

“Groundhog Day”

When last we wrote, we quoted one Bruce Smith in his letter to the Post and Courier. Mr. Smith took a fresh, long term-look at Charleston’s future and the cruise ship terminal issue: “Anyone who is willing to tolerate the [cruise] ships, given their druthers and a clean slate would never allow them to dock in downtown Charleston. They will have learned from many other ports that placement of a terminal slightly removed from the hub of economic activity and the center of tourism with frequent and free transport to and from the center of town would be ideal.” He noted that, “Harbors were never in the ‘center’ of town, even in Charleston, but on the periphery, to avoid all the detrimental impacts they create… “We have a chance to do it anew, either north or east of the city’s center, the way our founders would have chosen.”(1)

So with a new year, the mayor’s 10th inaugural signaled a fresh, new approach to the cruise terminal debate…right? No. P&C columnist Brian Hicks, in a fawning article about Mayor Riley, wrote, “He took a shot at cruise ship opponents — hey, it wouldn’t be the mayor if he wasn’t a little snarky — by declaring that this a working city, not a gated community. It’s a place where at any given moment you might hear ‘the announcement from the Coast Guard station; or on another part of the peninsula, ships arriving or embarking; fire engines …'”(2) So the lingering problems of the fire department (3), the police department (4), the Crosstown (5,6), the cruise ship terminal…continue. New year, same old stuff.

No worries. There are more problems. The State Ports Authority (SPA) is apparently trying to figure out how “[t]he Port of Savannah has leapfrogged ahead of Charleston to become one of the nation’s busiest ports, and some fear that deepening the Savannah River could tip the scales further in Georgia’s favor.” One clue might be that the Georgia ports authority found out that the Panama Canal was going to be widened; perhaps that was a story that the SPA missed, because “while Savannah’s [permitting process] began in 1996 and is due for a final decision next year… “Charleston’s proposed deepening is at the beginning of a multiyear study process.”(7) Does anyone wonder why Charleston waited so long to start its permitting process? Is anyone asking that question?

Here’s another question. In its battle with Savannah, “The State Ports Authority is campaigning for the federal government to study the relative merits of all Southeastern ports (particularly Charleston vs. Savannah) regarding post-Panamax dredging.”(8) That’s a great idea. Look at the two sites, have a third party compare them using objective criteria, and determine which one is better. An objective, merit-based study. So why, then, is the SPA stonewalling against a similar study to compare different sites for a new Charleston Cruise terminal? When the SPA is battling against Savannah, it wants an impartial study. But when the SPA has a compliant mayor, an emasculated City Council, and an uninvolved state legislature (except for good efforts of Senators Chip Campsen and Chip Limehouse), the SPA chooses to avoid a much needed, objective, merit-based study to determine the best location for a cruise ship terminal. No problem. No one loses here except the people and future of Charleston.

That’s not all. As the Charlestowne Neighborhood Association’s Randy Pelzer wrote in an Post and Courier op-ed, the SPA charges that Georgia’s dredging project inadequately addresses the environmental issues of depleted oxygen levels that would endanger fish and water quality in the Savannah River. But isn’t this the same SPA that’s objecting to an environmentally-friendly shore-side power requirement for cruise ships in the face of the toxic, bunker-fuel pollution that drifts and drops across the City of Charleston every time a cruise ship is in port? So when it comes to choosing the best location for a Charleston cruise terminal, or protecting Charleston’s air quality from noxious soot and pollutants, Randy Pelzer concludes: “A merit-based study is right for the dredging issue. And it is right for the SPA cruise terminal.”

The problems are so obvious at Union Pier, that no fewer than six different Charleston neighborhood, environmental, and historic organizations that have studied the issue have called for “for an independent study of the location the State Ports Authority has chosen for a new cruise passenger terminal.”(9)

But 2012 is likely to be 2011 or 2010 all over again. The longest serving mayor in America has gotten another four-year term. And the SPA’s CEO was just awarded a new seven-year, $350,000 a-year contract (not including bonuses).(10)

One final question. Was it our mayor or the SPA CEO who said, “our public persona and the quality of our lives should never be sacrificed… “Why would anyone think the use of an old warehouse and a huge parking lot would be a smart decision? We shouldn’t cut any deal with the SPA until…we all know and agree [on what] would be the best solution for the next 100 years, not the next five.”(1) It was neither of them. It was letter-writer Bruce Smith.


# # #

1) “No Deals” – letter to the P&C
2) Hicks Column: Riley’s City Already a Great One – P&C
3) “The Same Mistakes…” BuildingsonFire . com
4) Memo told Police Officers to Hide Key Crime Details – P&C
5) How the City Plans to Fix the Crosstown – P&C
6) “Crosstown Canal” – letter to the editor, P&C
7) “What’s at Stake with Savannah Dredging” – P&C
8) “SPA Should Extend its Fair Study Criteria to Cruise Terminal” – Randy Pelzer
9) “Groups Call for Terminal Study” P&C
10) SPA Chief gets $50,000 raise, 7-Year Contract” – P&C

“Ports Authority hostile to human health”- a letter to the editor in The State newspaper today

“Ports Authority hostile to human health,”   The State, February 3, 2012, letter to editor

The State Ports Authority’s objection to the go-ahead given to Georgia for Savannah River dredging is supposedly based on its grave concern that the health of marine life will be adversely affected.

At the same time, however, the Ports Authority is more than willing to dock its pollution-spewing cruise ships smack-dab in the middle of a high-density residential area. The ships’ smokestacks will be within a few hundred feet of 160 homes along Laurens Street and will affect all of peninsular Charleston. The authority is refusing to install shore-side power for ships, which would help alleviate this serious health detriment.

How is it that the Ports Authority answers to no one other than its board members? Board members are not elected officials, and while the governor can fill a vacancy, she can’t un-appoint members. The Ports Authority is a state agency and pays no state taxes and seems omnipotent. Taxpaying citizens have no influence, through elected officials, over the authority’s conduct. That simply is not right and should be changed. Citizens who reside full-time in Charleston and pay huge property taxes are maligned by the Ports Authority, their concerns dismissed, while all consideration is given to cruise customers who come and go. Both the mayor and Ports Authority have disparaged venerable preservation groups that have fought for nearly a century to protect the vulnerable and historic environment of Charleston.

Apparently when it’s convenient, the Ports Authority purports to support environmental causes, but citizens aren’t stupid, and we know this is really about competition with Savannah to see who can get its river dredged first. Even if we were to give the Ports Authority the benefit of the doubt about its new-found fervor for the environment, we still would have to conclude that it cares a lot more about the little fishies in the Savannah River than about the health of the citizens of Charleston.

There is, however, an obvious win-win solution here: Move the cruise terminal to a site that is not in the middle of a high-density residential area.

There is plenty of available property along the Cooper River.

Tommie Robertson


“Groups call for terminal study”- an article in today’s P&C

“Groups call for terminal study”,
Post and Courier, January 24, 2012, DAVID SLADE. 

As several Charleston organizations with concerns about the cruise ship business await S.C. Supreme Court action on their lawsuit against Carnival Cruise Lines, they are continuing to press their case on other fronts.

The Historic Ansonborough Neighborhood Association, Charlestowne Neighborhood Association, The Preservation Society of Charleston and the Coastal Conservation League — the groups suing Carnival — were joined Monday by The Committee to Save the City and Charleston Communities for Cruise Control in calling for an independent study of the location the State Ports Authority has chosen for a new cruise passenger terminal.

The SPA plans to begin construction this year on a $35 million terminal, using an existing warehouse at Union Pier near Laurens Street, where there were previously cargo operations.

The terminal, which was the subject of numerous public meetings last year, would replace an older one at the south end of Union Pier, near Market Street.

Opponents have suggested cruise ships should dock elsewhere, such at Columbus Street Terminal or Patriot’s Point. SPA President Jim Newsome has called that idea “a non-starter.”

Port officials have said Columbus Street Terminal, where $23 million was recently invested in capital improvements, is not an alternative, and is a focal point of the SPA’s growing non-container business. A spokeswoman said the SPA had nothing new to add in response to the latest call for an independent study.

The Charleston Communities for Cruise Control organization, which calls itself C4 for short, also has asked Carnival to voluntarily agree to standards addressing “the size of ships, frequency of visits, air and water emissions, fuel used, noise mitigation, impact fees, local purchasing and periodic reporting on the standards.”


Letter to the editor in today’s Savannah paper about merit-based study-

(Merit-based study) Letter to the editorSavannah Morning News, January 23, 2012

Are the objections by the South Carolina officials to Savannah River dredging and its request for a merit-based study of all Southeastern ports just a ploy to secure a competitive advantage for the Charleston port, as many in Georgia think?

On its face, the call for a merit-based study of all dredging sites seems prudent. Yet, the S.C. port has flatly refused a similar request for a merit-based study of potential sites for a new cruise terminal in Charleston requested by the two historic residential neighborhoods (South of Broad and Ansonborough) most impacted by the traffic congestion, soot, noise and skyline impairment from cruise ships docked in our neighborhoods.

Similarly, the S.C. port has publicly challenged Georgia’s dredging permit on the grounds that fish are not sufficiently protected by a mitigation plan centered on an aeration system costing Georgia over $50 million.

Yet, the S.C. port has refused to protect humans in Charleston from the air pollution of docked cruise ships burning dirty fuel to power a small town, even though shore power has worked in other ports and costs only a few million dollars.

Instead of conducting a merit-based study of its six Charleston terminals, the S.C. port has chosen a site at its Union Pier Terminal in the historic district, a location that does not make sense for these reasons:

• It goes against the normal practice of locating modern cruise terminals away from residential areas.

• It damages human health, property, quality of life and heritage tourism as publicized by local doctors, realtors, hoteliers, residents, preservation organizations and others over the past year.

Two national organizations (National Trust for Historic Preservation and World Monument Fund) have placed Charleston on a special watch list of endangered historic sites due to cruise operations in the historic district.

Our neighborhood associations have suggested an alternative cruise terminal site away from the historic district that would minimize the negative impacts from cruise passengers, most of whom travel to Charleston just to board the cruise ship.

We have petitioned our state leaders to rectify this embarrassing inconsistency by the S.C. Ports Authority and to order a merit-based study of alternative cruise terminal sites and environmental mitigation.

This is what the S.C. port has been preaching for dredging but not practicing for the cruise terminal; it is a telling inconsistency.

Head, Charlestowne Neighborhood Association
Cruise Ship Task Force
Charleston, S.C.

“Full speed ahead to high court”- an editorial in today’s P&C

“Full speed ahead to high court”,
Post and Courier, January 22, 2012, editorial. 

It has been two years since the Historic Charleston Foundation organized a forum to address the need to strike a “delicate balance” of business, tourism and livability for peninsula Charleston.

And for most of those two years, one topic has remained unresolved — and contentious: cruise ships.

Both those who support unregulated cruises to Charleston and those who are calling for restrictions say it is good news that the S.C. Supreme Court has decided to play a role in the issue by hearing a controversial lawsuit.

At least they can agree on something.

The lawsuit alleges that Carnival cruise ships in port here should be subject to city ordinances including those regulating noise, building heights and signage.

It was filed by the Southern Environmental Law Center last year on behalf of the Coastal Conservation League, the Preservation Society of Charleston and the Charles Towne and Ansonborough neighborhood associations. The State Ports Authority and the city of Charleston intervened on Carnival’s behalf.

The Supreme Court’s decision means that, instead of the suit proceeding through the court system and eventually ending up in the Supreme Court, the high court will be the first to consider it.

Meanwhile, the SPA is moving forward on its plans to build a new cruise terminal.

The Charleston Communities for Cruise Control is hoping to persuade Carnival to agree to restrictions voluntarily as it has done in other ports.

The Historic Charleston Foundation is awaiting results of an independent study it contracted for to evaluate the cruise industry’s impact on the peninsula.

The city remains on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s watch list as being threatened by the cruise industry.

And there is a movement to convince the SPA to agree to an objective analysis of the port’s property and the most appropriate place on it for the new cruise terminal. Some believe that, by moving the site northward, the SPA would free up more land for valuable residential and commercial development. The SPA contends that it has looked at its options and made the best choice for port operations.

In his recent inaugural address, Mayor Joe Riley referred to the “lively debate in our community about cruise ships.” He rightly said that local sights and sounds, including ships, are signs of a vibrant city.

But he then attributed the debate to a few wealthy people who have moved to Charleston and expect it to be “like a gated community — affluent and exclusive” — an unfortunate dismissal of real concerns of a significant number of people, including lifelong Charlestonians and preservationists.

A two-way, respectful discourse on the issue of cruise ship controls, as the Supreme Court should provide, will be a welcome step in this complicated issue. A civil exchange of ideas also would be welcome in Charleston’s civic debate on the issue.

That civility should start with City Hall.

See the letter from C4 to Carnival with Code of Conduct

C4 letter to Carnival

On January 5, C4 Executive Director Carrie Agnew mailed the following letter, along with our Cruise Ship Code of Conduct, to Carnival Cruise Lines President and CEO Gerry Cahill, with copies to each of the independent directors.  It was sent via Certified Mail, and we have received the return receipt. C4 looks forward to hearing Carnival’s response to our requests and will update the website with any reply we receive.

January 5, 2012

Gerry Cahill
President & CEO, Carnival Cruise Lines
3655 N.W. 87th Avenue
Miami,FL 33178-2428

Dear Mr. Cahill

Charleston Communities for Cruise Control is an individual-supported, non-profit organization dedicated to attaining the appropriate balance between cruise ship operations in Charleston, SC and the historic nature and quality of life in the City and residential neighborhoods adjacent to those cruise ship operations.

The factors involved in striking that balance in the small historic center of town include the location of the cruise terminal, traffic congestion, visual scale, acres of parking, size and frequency of cruise ships, air pollution and water discharges. Concern about these various factors and their impact on Charleston has been expressed by The Preservation Society of Charleston, Historic Charleston Foundation, Coastal Conservation League, Historic Ansonborough Neighborhood Association, Charlestowne Neighborhood Association, and editorials in the Post and Courier and the Charleston Mercury. Nationally, concern has been expressed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and, internationally, by the World Monuments Foundation.

We are impressed by many aspects of Carnival’s Sustainability Report issued in December 2010. Carnival says it strives to be a “good corporate citizen” and “a leader in strengthening bonds with our guests, employees and communities”. You aim to “enrich our diverse communities in our home ports” and “preserve the fragile ecosystems upon which we are so dependent”. Specifically, we note that “Carnival uses low-sulfur fuels voluntarily while cruising near environmentally-sensitive as well as historical areas”. We also note that Carnival has adopted a number of environmental practices in Alaska, California and Hawaii that are “not required” in order to “to reduce smog and health pollutants” and “to preserve coastal water quality”. The Report states that you have committed to onshore power for ships calling at Long Beach. Finally, we note you “contribute to the economic growth of the ports in which we operate through the taxes we pay, the jobs we create and the suppliers we support”.

Our question is: how does Charleston fit in this picture?

We have heard nothing positive about low-sulfur fuel, onshore power, air opacity measurement, discharges in our environmentally-sensitive waters or taxes — from Carnival, the South Carolina State Ports Authority or the City of Charleston. We believe these issues must be addressed. Consequently, Charleston Communities for Cruise Control has issued the enclosed Charleston Code of Conduct for Cruise Ships.


(page 2)

The Code of Conduct is not anti-cruise ship, but seeks to fashion operations at a scale consistent with maintaining Charleston as a unique small historic city and asks for treatment consistent with that accorded to certain other ports with respect to environmental considerations and impact taxes or fees. We realize that with respect to total number of cruise ship visits, Carnival would be part of a larger scheme.

We request that you use low-sulfur fuel in port and that you request the SCSPA to make on shore power available in Charleston. We ask that, in the absence of currently applicable taxes, you pay a modest voluntary impact fee. We ask that you not plan to homeport your larger ships in Charleston.

We also ask that you communicate to the SCSPA support for reconsidering the location of the proposed cruise ship terminal in Charleston. There are good alternative sites not directly adjacent to historic neighborhoods that have been suggested but never studied as possibilities. An alternate location could ameliorate many of the issues involved and be preferable for all concerned in the long run. In Boston, the Carnival Glory appears to operate successfully from the Cruiseport in East Boston, two miles from Faneuil Hall.

The SCSPA has said Charleston must accept a cruise ship terminal at Union Pier with its industrial like operations because the City is “not a museum”, yet, at the same time, The SCSPA website says passengers can “step back in time to the eighteenth century” and Carnival’s website calls Charleston a “living museum”.

We want to maintain the Charleston historic district as a place all people, including your passengers, want to visit. We believe that you have the opportunity to display your good corporate citizenship and to strengthen bonds with Charleston communities and look forward to your response and participation.



Carrie W. Agnew
Executive Director


Cc: Sir Jonathon Band
Arnold W. Donald
Pier Luigi Foschi
Richard J. Glasier
Modesto A. Maidique
Sir John Parker
Stuart Subotnick
Laura Weil
Randall J. Weisenburger
Uzi Zucker




The Charleston Tourism Ordinance states that the purpose of tourism regulation is “to maintain, protect and promote the tourism industry and economy of the city and, at the same time, to maintain and protect the tax base and land values of the city, to reduce unnecessary traffic and pollution and to maintain and promote aesthetic charm and the quality of life for the residents of the city.”


Cruise lines must realize that in Charleston their cruise ships docking at Union Pier literally sit at the doorstep of residential neighborhoods and significant historic districts. These neighborhoods and communities deserve to have all visiting cruise ships adhere to the following standards:


1. Cruise ships should respect the traditional height, mass and scale standards of the city. No ships with passenger and crew capacity above 3,000 should regularly visit the city.


2. Cruise ships add to congestion, pollution and visual obstruction. There should be no more than two cruise ships in Charleston during a single week.


3. Charleston is an old city and the air quality impacts not only those living and visiting, but also the buildings themselves. Ships running hotelling engines constantly while in port should connect to onshore power or, if onshore power is not available, should burn low sulfur fuel and request that onshore power be made available to them.


4. Charleston waters deserve respectful treatment. Cruise ships should not discharge gray water or black water or incinerate garbage within twelve miles of shore.


5. Residents of the peninsula area are sensitive to loud noise because it reverberates between buildings. Cruise ships should avoid making external announcements and playing music via external speakers while in port. Cruise ships should not use horns or PA systems more than required by International Maritime Organization safety.


6. Cruise lines are not currently required to pay accommodation or passenger taxes in Charleston unlike other port cities. Cruise lines should voluntarily pay an impact fee of $5 per passenger into a fund for community improvement as a show of respect and appreciation for the maintenance required for upkeep.


7. Cruise ships should support the local Charleston/South Carolina economy by purchasing provisions from local vendors.


8. Trust, but verify. Cruise lines should provide quarterly data about fuel used, discharges made and local purchasing to allow measurement against these standards.




Read “Ship Emissions” in today’s P&C- a reply to Mayor Riley’s “gated community — affluent and elitist” comment about his constituents.

A picture says a thousand words... A view from the author's home.

“Ship Emissions” 
Post and Courier, January 14, 2012, Letter to the editor

Talk about chutzpa and gall. Mayor Joe Riley recently was quoted as saying those of us who have concerns about our health due to emissions from cruise ships docking 150 feet from our homes are acting like we think we’re in a “gated community — affluent and elitist.” Now mind you, this is coming from our south-of-Broad-residing mayor.

Talk about an affluent and elitist community — that certainly could be said about where the mayor resides. It’s important to point out that the mayor is moving ships’ emissions farther from his home while moving them virtually on top of our homes.

The city zoned the area of Laurens Street adjacent to the cruise terminal site for high-density residential use. There are currently 60 existing homes and another 100 have been approved for Anson Field/Concord Park in this area, all within a few hundred feet of ships’ smokestacks.

Why is it that pleasantries for cruisers (e.g. they can walk to Market Street shops) are more important than the health of these 160 full-time, taxpaying residents? Who cares about the health of these 160 families? Clearly not Mayor Riley, nor the State Ports Authority. Maybe if the mayor and the SPA quit vilifying concerned citizens and making false allegations (e.g. we’re anti-jobs, anti-cruiser “snobs”) then real issues could be fairly and objectively discussed.

Tommie Robertson
Laurens Street



Read the cover article “All Aboard” on the cruise ship controversy in Charleston Magazine, January 2012


Hunt, S. All Aboard? (2012, January) Charleston Magazine.
Pictures by Paul Zoeller.

Preservation, economic growth, livability, regulation, redevelopment, pollution—age-old issues for Charleston are once again rocking the boat as the debate over the local cruise industry and its impacts continues. And you thought cruising was supposed to be carefree…

Todd and Natalie Shaver live in the foothills of Tennessee. And they are like thousands of other folks (2,056 at a time, to be specific) who love a Carnival cruise. They love the festive atmosphere, ample buffets, live entertainment, sun, sea, and all the pleasures that Carnival’s “fun ships” offer. The Shavers also love Charleston. “We’ve got ‘America’s vacationland’ in the beautiful Smokies only 40 minutes away, but we adore Charleston. We visit every chance we get,” Todd says. So they were doubly excited when the Holy City became a Carnival home port. They booked a cruise and happily drove the six and a half hours from Tennessee to come here and set sail.

Like most of their fellow Carnival-goers, the couple didn’t mind too much that they had to wait in line outside the Union Pier entrance, then slowly drive through a concrete maze of ugly yellow jersey barriers.


They waited to present passports to officials under makeshift white tents; they waited some more; and finally inched closer to the terminal to unload luggage, then exited to another line to wait to park.


Hey, the set up ain’t perfect, or pretty, but it more or less works, and golly, it’s not really such a big deal. There’s an all-inclusive vacation waiting for them on the other end—five to seven days of unfettered Fantasy fun.


But it is a big deal to others and hardly a vacation. The sub-par Union Pier condition is a big deal to State Ports Authority (SPA) officials, Charleston tourism leaders, and proud citizens who cringe at the unsightliness and inefficiency of the outdated facility. It’s a big deal to residents in neighborhoods most directly impacted by cruise-related traffic, noise, and alleged pollution. It’s a big deal to port workers who need paychecks. It’s a big deal to preservationists and environmentalists who fear more than jobs are at stake. It’s a big deal to one of the nation’s busiest ports, which has seen operating revenues decline each of the last three years. It’s a big deal to a mayor and to Charlestonians who dream of reclaiming 35 acres of industrial waterfront for public use. It’s a whoppin’ 855-foot, 10-deck, 70,367-ton ship; it’s a $35-million terminal renovation project. It’s a big deal.


Most of Carnival’s cruise patrons have no idea that the convoluted maze they’ve just driven through is symbolic of the complex issues the local cruise question has raised. Most are probably clueless that outside the chain-link and barbed-wire fence that surrounds Charleston’s Union Pier, there’s a heated controversy afloat, with billboards sparring, a lawsuit pending, and letters to the editor flying.


But the Shavers understand. They penned one of those letters, expressing both their affinity for Carnival cruises and their deep love—and growing concern—for Charleston. “It’s one of our favorite places of all time,” says Todd. “But recently when we stayed at the Harborview Inn to celebrate our 10th anniversary, the Fantasy was in port, and our beloved view of the harbor by Waterfront Park was dwarfed by the massive ship. We realized that Charleston had better be careful.”


Just as a big ship requires proper ballast to stay afloat, a small, peninsular, residential city like Charleston must find balance amidst competing demands of tourism, livability, and workability as it sails forward. And the issue of trust, or lack thereof, seems to slosh around in the passing wake. The water is getting choppy; the cruise question remains contentious.


“Cruise Control” supporters seek assurances of enforceable limits—no more than 104 ships a year, which is the voluntary limit the SPA has agreed to and far exceeds the 88 cruise calls in 2011 and the 84 ships expected to port in Charleston in 2012. The SPA seeks to fulfill their state-mandated mission to promote maritime commerce—of which cruises represent only 4.4 percent of vessel traffic—and keep Carnival Corporation, the world’s leading cruise operator with a global fleetof 101 ships and 8.5 million guests annually, as a valuable client. They claim that setting statutory cruise limits would send a chilling message to the more crucial maritime cargo industry they continue to court, and that voluntary promises and market indications will keep the cruise industry here in scale. Everyone wants Charleston to prosper as an historic port city in the 21st century, but there are differing perspectives on what that should look like and where the tipping point lies.


So what are the big questions, the underlying concerns? Who is calling the shots? And who stands to win or lose as this charming city cruises into the future? Is the cruise industry in Charleston merely a harmless, and even economically beneficial, matter of “Southern Charm meets Big Fun,” as Carnival’s website proclaims? Or is it perhaps more Southern Town meets Big Trouble, as the website’s ironic illustration of a massive ship obscuring the renowned profile of Rainbow Row might suggest?


“Welcome to Charleston!”
This is what Ansonborough resident Carrie Agnew hears, loud and clear, early on Saturday mornings when the Fantasy pulls into port and loudspeakers proclaim its arrival to passengers. “I don’t need to hear ‘Welcome to Charleston,’ I know where I am,” she says. And she knows where she stands on this issue, as one of the outspoken residents who is not pleased with the noise, soot, and traffic hassles stemming from having a cruise terminal in her backyard. But while the ships may slip into port in the early morning, they didn’t simply appear here overnight. Charleston embarked on the cruise course decades ago, perhaps even centuries ago.


Steamships cruised in and out of our harbor in the early 1900s, and by 1920, seven different steamship companies regularly called on the port. From 1942 to 1974, Charleston lacked a dedicated passenger terminal, but the opening of the current Union Pier terminal, on land the city gave to the Port Authority in the 1950s, reinvigorated interest in expanding the local cruise market. There were on-again, off-again efforts throughout the ’80s and ’90s to cultivate more cruise business. From 2003 to 2004, the city’s Cruise Ship Task Force recommended moving the terminal to the north end of Union Pier, as had been proposed by a 1996 Union Pier Concept Master Plan that was shelved when BMW began cargo operations there.


So in September 2009, when Carnival announced intentions to home port in Charleston, SPA president and CEO Jim Newsome and his colleagues were clearly pleased, but they were also prepared for possible push back. “We recognized that we would need to reach out and engage the community on this,” says Newsome, who had already signed the Carnival contract. “We organized a professional outreach program, which is unusual for us, and have held more than 100 meetings with community members and organizations. There’s been extraordinary public input throughout this process. We’ve listened to concerns and made adjustments to plans based on that valuable input. We started this, and we have to be respectful of this city, but we’ve got to move forward now.”


They’ve also funded studies, in particular an often-cited economic benefit study authored by professors John Crotts and Frank Hefner of the College of Charleston that reports a $37-million positive economic impact tied to cruise-related activity. While some critics have poked holes in these numbers, there’s no question that increased cruise activity translates to jobs and money. And even many who are wary of cruise impacts are salivating at one of the deal’s undeniable payoffs: the Union Pier revitalization plan—the SPA’s quid-pro-quo offering to the city.


On the Waterfront
The prospect of adding reclaimed waterfront property back to the city’s tax rolls for future mixed-use redevelopment puts a gleam in Mayor Joseph P. Riley, Jr.’s eye. “To open that harbor vista from Market Street and in front of the Custom House south to the waterfront is a wonderful opportunity for the city, a wonderful gift to future generations,” Riley says. “It will extend the street grid system into that area, with sidewalks and parks, and in time with new homes, offices, and shops.”


The plan is contingent on the SPA sinking $35 million into a new passenger terminal on the northern end of Union Pier. If the plan goes forward, the subsequent revitalization will undoubtedly be a huge asset and draw to Charleston, another jewel for a city recently crowned the “Top City in the United States” as well as the world’s third best city by the readers of Condé Nast Traveler. But not so fast, cautions Jonathan B. Tourtellot, a National Geographic fellow and founding director of the Center for Sustainable Destinations. Increased cruise action at a beautiful new Union Pier terminal may ultimately diminish and damage Charleston’s attractiveness, he warns.


“The problem with cruises is that they can be the strip mine of tourism,” says Tourtellot, whose organization conducted a survey in 2008 that ranked Charleston 15th worldwide and first in the U.S. for responsible destination stewardship, citing “historic preservation and forward-thinking on tourism.” “Cruise ships can flood a city with people who are not necessarily interested in the place, and it becomes a turn-off to other tourists and locals. The most egregious case in the U.S. is Key West, but it’s a pattern we’ve seen repeated in Dubrovnik and Venice. Charleston has a strong history of fine-tuning the balance of tourism,” he adds, “but if the [cruise] volume turns up and that balance tilts, it’s very hard to back out. In Dubrovnik, it’s forever changed the nature of the place.”


Tourtellot’s concern has been echoed by other significant national groups. The National Trust for Historic Preservation added a “Watch Status” to its annual Most Endangered List and gave the inaugural nod to Charleston. The World Monuments Fund placed the Holy City on its Watch List shortly thereafter. “The concerns in Charleston echo challenges faced in many historic port cities with cruise ship tourism,” wrote the World Monuments Fund on its website. “Balancing the preservation of heritage, quality of life needs, and new economic opportunities is a constant and complex dialogue… The rapid, unregulated growth in cruise ship arrivals compels the development of a sustainable plan that will encourage tourism and a thriving historic center.”


Boost or Boondoggle?
Newsome agrees that the tourism cost-benefit question is at best a secondary factor in the cruise equation. “In my view, cruising is a maritime commerce business, not a tourism business,” he says. “It’s more like an airport. Sure they may stay a night or two before or after the cruise, but for us it’s about the maritime commerce.”


A recent study coauthored by Crotts suggests that cruise passengers do, in fact, stay in area hotels a night or two on either end—resulting in $4.9 million in hotel revenues. The SPA has a list of testimonials from businesses, from Jestine’s Kitchen to Boone Hall Plantation, that report a boost from cruise traffic. Others, however, claim there is little direct tourism benefit—and what’s there is mainly of the T-shirt and praline variety—and that cruise congestion keeps away the more traditional tourists who do spend money with local establishments. Historic Charleston Foundation hopes to bring more clarity to this analysis through a commissioned independent economic impact study, with results not yet available at the time this article went to press.


What is known is that solid numbers, where they exist, do not tell the whole story, and whiffs of potential profits have not led to consensus among the local business community. The Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce reports that a majority of its surveyed members do support cruise tourism, according to Mary Graham, senior vice president of the Chamber. “From our perspective, the cruise industry is a piece of the port business, and historically, when the port has done well, the local economy has done well,” Graham says.


But other influential leaders in the local hospitality industry, notably Hank Holliday—who has been dubbed “The Market Man” for his instrumental role in revitalizing the historic City Market (a Carnival passenger hot spot)—are vocal cruise opponents,


arguing that cruise tourism is detrimental to a sustainable tourism-based economy. T-shirt stands and fudge shops are not the type of businesses that offer high wages and long-term benefit to the community.


“We definitely don’t want to kill the goose that laid the golden egg,” warns David Compton, a Lowcountry native and owner of Old South Carriage Company. “Sure, it’s good for my business. Cruise passengers, especially from port-of-call ships, help fill carriages, and we’re glad to have them. A little bit is good, but I just got back from Venice, and it was overrun [by cruises]. Somehow we’ve got to find a balance.” He notes that the city has no problem placing restrictions and ordinances on his business operation. “At the same time, I certainly know the downside to regulation,” he adds, “and I don’t wish that on anyone. Once they start placing limits on your business, they never stop.”


Charleston’s vital tourism engine is not praline shops or hotels or restaurants, or even our waterfront—revitalized or not—but the city’s historic buildings, homes, and gardens, argues Evan Thompson, executive director of the Preservation Society of Charleston. “The fundamental issue is that we must sustain an environment in which people are willing to make enormous private investment in historic homes. That’s what tourists come to see,” Thompson says. If neighborhood quality of life becomes diminished, people won’t spend millions to maintain historic properties, jeopardizing not only Charleston’s main attraction but a revenue stream that feeds directly to a broad range of labor and trades, putting money in local pockets, not in coffers of hotel chains or offshore corporations (Carnival is legally incorporated in Panama.) “We’re a small city on a small scale with international significance,” Thompson adds. “We’re not unlike a rare pristine rainforest; only so many people can trample through without damaging it. The cumulative effect of unregulated mass tourism concerns us.”

Limitless Buffet?
Carnival patrons may enjoy all-you-can-eat buffets and all-night entertainment, but local elected officials need to swallow hard and enforce restraints, say many, including City Councilman Mike Seekings, who voted to defer the Mayor’s proposed “ordinance” (August 16, 2011) which “was not an ordinance, it was a memo,” he says. “We need to ask for, forcibly, a reasoned conversation,” Seekings notes. “This is a watershed moment, a social debate about how we deal with development, tourism, and building needs. The ‘Jobs Not Snobs’ retort is so polarizing. This has nothing to do with class, and everything to do with balance. And to dismiss cruise limits as ‘anti-business’ is insanity,” he asserts. “It’s a hugely pro-business stance, because if cruise impacts tip the balance, it will detract from the everyday-tourist base.”


But it’s tricky. The shipping industry falls under the purview of international maritime regulations (including ship-related environmental standards, see sidebar, page 65), and the SPA, with oversight from its governor-appointed board of directors, calls the shots at the port. “The City of Charleston cannot regulate the number of cruises—we don’t legally have the authority,” states Mayor Riley. “Nor do I believe there is a need to. I am as confident as I can possibly be that if the SPA in the future desires to have more than the agreed-upon 104 cruise ships a year, and if at that point the community and City Council say, ‘no more,’ the SPA would honor that. I don’t think there’s a risk at all,” Riley says.


Cruising to Court
That’s wishful thinking at best and being irresponsible at worst, counters Dana Beach of the Coastal Conservation League, which has joined the Preservation Society and two neighborhood associations in filing a lawsuit against Carnival Cruise Lines—a suit that the City of Charleston and the SPA subsequently entered into as co-defendants with Carnival (see sidebar, this page). Legal action, the plaintiffs felt, was their final recourse after making no headway on efforts to negotiate enforceable cruise regulations. “They’ve completely stonewalled us. All models, rules, and lessons of civic dialogue are being broken here,” says Beach. “‘We should trust them,’ the Ports Authority tells us. Well, we trust them to try to cover their revenue shortfall.”


Beach and others are not convinced that a 104-ship limit is realistic given that the cruise industry’s annual growth rate is six to seven percent and that the SPA is investing in new infrastructure and a $35-million passenger terminal that suggests more cruise capacity than that. Plus, “it’s a bad investment of public funds,” says Beach. “We’ve got a state agency using our funds to make a risky bet on a cruise line. No prudent business person would make a $35-million investment without more than a three-year contract, and the SPA’s agreement with Carnival is not even a binding contract,” he notes, pointing out that Carnival has a history of “hit and runs” with communities—most recently in Mobile, Alabama, where city officials were blindsided by Carnival’s abrupt pull-out in October, leaving them with no other cruise clients, 125 lost jobs, and an estimated $22-million debt incurred from building a new cruise terminal.


Uncharted Waters
Whether or not the pending lawsuit has any merit is yet to be determined. Meanwhile, locals and tourists alike drive past the dueling I-26 “Cruise Control” and “Cruise On” billboards, silent echoes of the simmering debate. And the Fantasy continues to slip in and out of Charleston’s harbor, with good folks making their way to Union Pier to hop on board and enjoy a fun getaway. They’re not worrying about regulations, or cost/benefit analyses, or balancing the impacts of tourism on a small, historic seaport town. They’re just trying to decide between sushi or steak for dinner.


Consider the ship names in Carnival’s “Fantasy class”—the Fantasy, Ecstasy, Sensation, Fascination, Imagination, Inspiration, Elation, Paradise—and it’s no wonder the company is so successful. Idealism and escapism have an obvious appeal, but the flip side of fantasy is harsh reality, where the water is often murky, the navigation unclear, and the impacts of choices weigh more heavily than what’s for dinner.
Welcome aboard, Charleston. There’s no guarantee of smooth sailing ahead, but there’s too much at stake not to endure some rough waters.



Gray Water, Gray Air, Gray Areas?
The cruise industry’s environmental impact varies according to source. The water is murky, at best, but here’s what we know:


■ The EPA’s Clean Water Act and the
International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) International Convention for the Prevention and Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) set environmental standards for water/air emissions for cruise ships. The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) has jurisdiction.


■ In 2000, 53 environmental organizations petitioned the EPA to assist the USCG in “fully enforcing” regulations, citing inconsistencies. Since 9-11, the USCG enforcement capacity has become further taxed.


■ The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) adopted cruise-specific standards that meet or exceed the federal and international regulations; these are voluntary, i.e. no agency enforcement.


■ The EPA requires gray water, sewage, and ground-up garbage to be discharged further than three miles from land. Cruise ships that embark from Charleston have voluntarily agreed to discharge gray water when the ship is more than 12 miles from shore, according to the SPA.


■ The industry has a history of regulatory noncompliance. One example: in 2002 and 2003, Carnival paid settlement fees of $18 million and $200,000, respectively, for improper oil bilge discharge and ballast water issues. See for additional infractions.


■ Other ports and states, such as Alaska, unsatisfied with CLIA’s “trust us” voluntary regulations, have passed more stringent laws, including mandating in-port use of shore power to reduce air pollution.


■ In March 2010, the IMO adopted new North American Emission Control Area (ECA) standards, effective 2015, which are expected to reduce sulfur and particulate matter emissions by 85 percent.



To the Courts


■ The Plaintiffs: On June 13, 2011, the Historic Ansonborough Neighborhood Association, Charlestowne Neighborhood Association, Preservation Society of Charleston, and the Coastal Conservation League, jointly represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center, filed suit in state court against Carnival Corporation. The plaintiffs allege that cruise operations violate local ordinances governing industries and structures in the historic district, and contend Carnival violates environmental permitting laws.


■ The Defendants: The City of Charleston and the South Carolina State Ports Authority (SPA) subsequently intervened as co-defendants with Carnival. Their attorneys have asked that the suit be dismissed, arguing that state law does not allow local government to establish zoning laws that could conflict with the SPA, and that passenger ships have used Union Pier for more than a century, long before zoning laws were adopted.


■ The Status: The motion to dismiss the case in the Ninth Judicial Circuit of the Court of Common Pleas is pending. In addition, attorneys for the defendants have filed a petition for original jurisdiction to the S.C. Supreme Court, hoping to expedite a ruling, claiming that an unresolved lawsuit could threaten jobs and contractual commitments. The court has not yet acted.



Cruising through the Numbers
The State Ports Authority has agreed to a voluntary 104 ships per year limit, with no more than one ship in port at a time. Cruise opponents agree but want these voluntary limits to be enforceable. Here’s the data on recent cruise activity:


2011 Cruise Activity
Ship Embarkations: 68 total by Carnival Fantasy*
Port-of-calls (20 total by 14 ships)
■ Aida Aura & Aida Luna (Aida Cruises)*
■ Arcadia (P&O Cruises)*
■ Columbus (Hapag-Lloyd Cruises)
■ Crown Princess (Princess Cruise Lines)*
■ Crystal Symphony (Crystal Cruises)
■ Navigator (Regent Seven Seas)
■ Oceania Marina (Oceania Cruises)
■ Oceania Regatta (Oceania Cruises)
■ Oriana (P&O Cruises)*
■ Princess Danae (Classic International Cruises)
■ Seaborne Sojourn (Seaborne Cruise Line)*
■ The World (ResidenSea)
■ Veendam (Holland America)*
*Note: cruise lines owned by Carnival Corporation


2003 47
2004 57
2005 47
2006 50
2007 44
2008 49
2009 33
2010 67
2011 88
2012 84 currently scheduled


SOURCE: Byron Miller, South Carolina State Ports Authority


Read “SPA should extend its fair-study criteria to cruise terminal” in today’s P&C-

Read “SPA should extend its fair-study criteria to cruise terminal”
a commentary by Randy Pelzer in today’s P&C.

SPA should extend its fair-study criteria to cruise terminal
Post and Courier, December 28, 2011, Commentary

The State Ports Authority is campaigning for the federal government to study the relative merits of all Southeastern ports (particularly Charleston vs. Savannah) regarding post-Panamax dredging. Yet the SPA has conducted no such study in choosing the site for a new cruise terminal in Charleston.

Instead of studying all six area terminals to determine the economic and environmental impacts of a passenger terminal, the SPA effectively disregarded all but Union Pier. That site defies common logic:

1) It goes against the normal practice of building modern cruise terminals away from residential areas;

2) It ignores damage to human health, property, quality of life and heritage tourism as addressed publicly by doctors, residents and the hotel and real estate industries.

The SPA is correct that there should be a merit-based study by the federal government to determine the best site for dredging. But the SPA should practice what it preaches.

The SPA also has challenged the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control’s nod to Georgia’s dredging plan on the grounds that it doesn’t protect fish sufficiently. However, the SPA has refused to protect Charlestonians from air pollution from docked cruise ships. Shore power works and costs a few million dollars.

The neighborhood associations (Ansonborough and Charlestowne) most impacted by traffic congestion, soot, noise and skyline impairment by cruise ships have asked for a merit-based study and steps to mitigate the negative environmental impact of cruise operations. If such a study makes sense for dredging, it makes sense for the cruise terminal.

Why didn’t the SPA consider the northern end of the Columbus Street Terminal (CST) near the Ravenel bridge as a site? It is farther from densely populated and visited areas. In our opinion, a merit-based study of CST would show:

1) All waterfront and tourism jobs would be preserved and two times more jobs created and tax revenues collected from redeveloping the entire Union Pier site at its highest and best use, and redeveloping depressed property near the Morrison Drive entrance to CST;

2) A cruise terminal and large warehouse on about 10 percent of CST’s 155 acres would not impede cargo operations;

3) SPA’s core cargo operations would not be affected. It operates at only 50 percent of its container capacity in Charleston and has the ability to expand that capacity by 50 percent upon completion of the old Navy base terminal;

4) Greater financial exposure would be risked by devoting the valuable Union Pier site to a one-use cruise facility than locating it at CST where it could be reused for cargo. Just this year Carnival abandoned Mobile and San Diego soon after expensive cruise terminals were built; and just this month, Carnival dropped cruises to Bermuda with little notice.

A study of cruise sites could start with the forthcoming study commissioned by the Historic Charleston Foundation to measure objectively community costs and benefits related to cruises.

Legislators representing the historic district (Sen. Chip Campsen and Rep. Chip Limehouse), and preservation and conservation organizations have reasonably asked the SPA to study alternative terminal sites and to impose legal limitations on cruise operations in the historic district.

A merit-based study is right for dredging issue. And it is right for the SPA cruise terminal.

Randy Pelzer
Charlestowne Neighborhood Association Cruise Ship Task Force
Broad Street