The Fog Machine

Buffeted by increasing controversy over its cruise terminal plan at Union Pier, the State Ports Authority (SPA), the BAR and the mayor have cranked up the fog machine. The goal is to hide this flawed plan and make it appear as if your non-representative government agencies are being representative.

When we fight our way through the fog, nothing has changed for the better. In a small way, with large letters, it may have gotten worse. If you want something good to happen, you will have to call your legislative representative and city council member straightaway. We have appended a list of city council members and their email addresses below for your convenience.(1)

Least important and less surprisingly, the “modernist” BAR approved the “wart on the water” that the SPA wants you to believe is a cruise terminal building that is “representative of Charleston.” In a previous blog, we showed the “artist rendition” of what this old warehouse will look like: A new warehouse.(2) The editor of the Charleston News Alternative likened the structure to a Wal-Mart. Making that analogy more complete, it’s to be surrounded by nine acres of asphalt parking lots. So what did the BAR suggest? The geniuses there suggested that we put “large free-standing letters” on the top of the warehouse, facing the water, that say “Welcome to Charleston.” Is “Hollywood”-like lettering also “representative of Charleston”? Even the Post and Courier was bemused, and in a tongue-in-cheek thrashing of the idea said, “And given Charleston’s reputation for hospitality, visitors should be welcome no matter when they arrive. The letters must be properly illuminated…. “And it is important to remember that Charleston is a living city, not a stagnant museum. The sign should come to life by flashing on and off throughout the night.”(3)

But when it comes to pronouncements, our mayor is not to be outdone. He turned on the fog machine, pretended to pivot on the issue of the city’s inability to limit cruise ships, and introduced his own “ordinance.” Contending that he didn’t believe cruise ship visits would rise, this time Mayor Riley told the City Council, “I do think it is well to have in the city code the formal outline of the process that the city would follow should the Ports Authority seek a change.”(4) That’s great news, right? No it isn’t, because the ordinance is not only meaningless, it is essentially a copy of the SPA’s old April 21st letter of promises without commitments. It’s fog feigning action.

How sure are we of our position? First, please read the ordinance for yourself–you will see there are no teeth in it. It’s an ordinance to agree to discuss. It’s not an ordinance that controls or limits anything.(5)

Secondly, there’s proof it’s meaningless. In an SPA email sent yesterday (5), its president and CEO Jim Newsome affirmed that it’s “Cruise Management Plan” (“104 ships a year,” “on a scale appropriate for Charleston,” etc.) is only “voluntary.” He then holds out a carrot for the unwary, “The [mayor’s proposed] ordinance spells out a process for the City’s actions and is consistent with the same community involvement process that the Ports Authority has committed to undertake. As such, we are not opposing this ordinance.” Yet the very next sentence confirms the worthlessness of Mayor Riley’s proposed ordinance: “However, we have consistently opposed any attempt to limit our maritime commerce mandate under South Carolina law. Any such action would present unacceptable and illegal limits on port business when our state desperately needs jobs, spending and investment.” They oppose any regulation but will sign on to the ordinance.

Simply, Jim Newsome and the SPA have agreed to the Mayor’s proposed ordinance because it doesn’t put any limits on the size of ships, number of visits, number of passengers, amount of pollution or limit the SPA’s future intents in any way. This ordinance merely mandates a year-long mishmash of meaningless meetings (didn’t we just go through that?) before the SPA will be able to roll over concerned citizens, businesses, and city officials and “alter” its “Cruise Management Plan” at will. In fact, this is a regurgitation of the SPA’s its own letter designed to fog over its future intentions that the mayor co-opted then cut and paste into an Ordinance. Please, Mayor Riley, turn off the fog machine and withdraw this worthless “ordinance.” Write one with teeth in it–and do it now.

–Jay

1) List of City Council Members and contact information:

Councilmember Gary White | whiteg@charleston-sc.gov | 364-1876
Councilmember Kathleen Wilson | aquaharp@bellsouth.net | (843) 795-7507
Councilmember Tim Mallard | mallardt@charleston-sc.gov | (843) 270-5618
Councilmember Aubry Alexander | alexandera@charleston-sc.gov | (843) 723-7150
Councilmember Blake Hallman | hallmanb@charleston-sc.gov
Councilmember Mike Seekings | seekingsm@charleston-sc.gov
Councilmember Dudley Gregorie | gregoriewd@charleston-sc.gov | (843) 720-1232
Councilmember Jimmy Gallant | gallantj@charleston-sc.gov
Councilmember Robert Mitchell | mitchellro@charleston-sc.gov | Home Phone: (843) 853-2057 | Pager: (843) 937-7663
Councilmember James Lewis | grantm@charleston-sc.gov | 219-8018
Councilmember Louis Waring | grantm@charleston-sc.gov | (843) 763-5388
Councilmember Dean Riegel | riegeld@charleston-sc.gov

2) Artist rendering of SPA cruise terminal structure
http://www.postandcourier.com/photos/2011/jul/24/810

3) P&C Editorial, “Sign of BAR Times”
http://www.postandcourier.com/news/2011/aug/12/sign-of-bar-times/

4) P&C – “Charleston to Propose Cruise Controls”
http://www.postandcourier.com/news/2011/aug/13/city-to-propose-cruise-controls/

5) Proposed city ordinance on Cruise Controls

6) SPA email from Jim Newsome – 12 Aug 11
http://campaign.r20.constantcontact.com/render?llr=a7qm4edab&v=001Sz6hDUiNII5nZwcGe-OiHPrypUwXjqmeWtcwIN7oAlh8UacFRpcQ8cpwqV-S447v0ruAvZJUnKEvtJ1BmNADeDTbFRvMO9dDTj9H1ssu16kIe3BDHqlU4IKa7Zf8mg44

The Problem with Ridiculous Letters to the Editor

Good morning,

The “pro-cruise ship letter of the day” campaign continues in the Post and Courier.

So what did today’s paper give us?

Big ships

Looking at the photograph of the 109,000-ton container ship Bruxelles raises the question:

Is this a more appealing sight than a 70,000-ton cruise ship?

Harriet Little
Joyce Lane
Summerville

Aside from the observation that most of the cruise ship proponent’s letters seem to be coming from everywhere but where the problems are, could this letter be more off point? As we noted two weeks ago, the MSC Bruxelles went, at high tide, under the Ravenel Bridge to the Wando Welch terminal. Cargo ships regularly visit Charleston, and no one on either side of the cruise ship controversy has any issue with cargo or container ships. Yet we still have the SPA and its PR firm ginning up the freight shippers and the ILA with the fiction that opponents of the SPA’s bad plan for a cruise terminal at Union Pier are also somehow opposed to cargo and container ships. Nonsense.

What’s the difference? Well, quite unlike cargo ships, cruise ships like the Carnival Fantasy have 3,000 passengers and crew who are routinely disgorged on the streets of Charleston’s historic peninsula; cruise ships dock at the edge of downtown and spew low-grade diesel fuel over neighborhoods, businesses, and tourists alike as they must maintain full ship operations while in port; cruise ships sound horns, use PA systems, and make other noise in addition to detracting, visually, from the historic skyline and Colonial-era charm of this historic city; cruise ship passengers, embarking and debarking, create vehicular congestion, requiring roads to be closed or blocked, in addition to creating pedestrian congestion especially at intersections; cruise ship passengers put an increased traffic strain on businesses and residences downtown and in the historic district when neither has the facilities or space for unbridled, unregulated tourism.

No, Ms. Little. Opponents only oppose the flawed SPA plan to permanently damage Union Pier from becoming an real asset as a “mixed use” development for the city. Opponents oppose an SPA that is unwilling to even consider alternate sites for a cruise terminal to another location that would not block off and blemish downtown waterfront land with an 1800 foot pier and cruise ships. Opponents oppose an SPA that refuses to put its “voluntary limits” for cruise ships in legally enforceable language in order to preclude the possibility of unbridled tourism overwhelming the city in the future. But, Opponents of the deeply flawed SPA ideas are NOT OPPOSED to cargo ships, container ships or the Yorktown being in the harbor.

What reasonable people in this city want is for the city administration to wake up and demand that the SPA put the same restraint and regulations on cruise ship tourism that is consistent with similar restraints and regulations that exist for all other tourism in this town.

But people who live in Summerville probably couldn’t care less about what goes on in Charleston. One can only wonder, then, if the SPA’s expensive PR firm is writing stuff for them to send in to the paper. When letter writers continuously and falsely asserts that opposition to cruise ships means opposition to all shipping, one has to wonder who or what is behind such a deceptive campaign.

–Jay