National Trust GIS Images

National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP) collection of GIS images predicting future cruise terminal impacts on Charleston.


Visual Impact Analysis: Cruise ships in downtown Charleston

Check out this slideshow by The National Trust depicting the visual impacts larger cruise ships will have on our skyline.

Corps, Court take up contentious SC cruise terminal

Corps, Court take up contentious SC cruise terminal

Associated Press

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is sorting through hundreds of comments and the South Carolina Court of Appeals has set arguments for later this year in the ongoing dispute over a proposed $35 million passenger cruise terminal in Charleston.

The South Carolina Ports Authority envisions the terminal in a renovated waterfront warehouse and wants a federal permit to place five additional clusters of pilings beneath the structure where there are now more than 1,000.

Opponents went to court challenging an initial permit issued in 2012 and a federal judge threw it out, saying regulators had not considered the larger impact of the terminal on historic Charleston.

Preservation, conservation and community groups opposed to the new terminal, first proposed five years ago, worry it will cause more congestion and pollution and hurt property values in the city.

The Ports Authority has now applied for a new permit and the Corps received about 250 comments before the public comment period closed last week. Corps spokesman Sean McBride said the comments will be considered before deciding whether a full environmental impact statement, which can take a year, should be compiled.

The Ports Authority provided 40,000 pages of documents to the Corps.

“If these 40,000 pages show anything, it is that a project of this magnitude, and at this location, will have a significant impact on the human environment,” said a comment filed with the Corps by attorneys for the Southern Environmental Law Center which represents two groups opposing the terminal.

The attorneys suggested alternatives be considered, including renovating the existing terminal or building the new terminal in North Charleston, upriver from the planned site. They also said that shore power – electric power to the ship so the cruise liners aren’t idling in port using fuel oil – is feasible and there should be an updated study on the impact cruises will have on traffic in the historic district.

An authority spokeswoman said the agency had no comment on the filing.

McBride said that until all the comments are reviewed, it’s too early to say if, or when, an environmental impact statement might be compiled.

Meanwhile, a challenge to a state permit is set to be heard by the Court of Appeals later this year. The court notified attorneys this month it plans to hear oral arguments the second week in December.

A state administrative law judge upheld the state permit for the pilings last year, saying the opponents lacked standing to appeal.

The judge found that opponents failed to present “specific, admissible facts to support their allegations and statements” of harm to Charleston posed by the planned terminal. His decision was then appealed by terminal opponents.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

READER COMMENTS on TODAY is the Day to Write Your Letter

Done! …   This is quite a hard hitting blog…Interestingly, [my wife] and I were in both Dubrovnik and Venice and it was quite evident that Venice was in the midst of a massive plan of moving the cruise ships away from the city itself.  I will be sending an e-mail voicing my objection to leaving the terminal where it is.  Keep up the good work.  …   Already sent it in!

Today, we are also posting two signed reader comments, one with pictures:

Perhaps in response to SPA CEO Jim Newsome’s comments in 2012, “In my view, cruising is a maritime commerce business, not a tourism business. 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.” we received this comment:

I would make the case that carriages are not really tourism.  They are equestrian activities, and thus should be under control of the US Equestrian Commission.  

— Dana Beach

Liz and I are wrapping up our anniversary trip which included a stop in Venice for a few days, departing back to Charleston tomorrow.  During our visit, the gridlocked masses grouped in and around points of “cruise ship” embarkation reminded us of the possible future Charleston will likely face if we are not careful.

Sitting in our hotel room this afternoon, we were shocked by a 10 story ship completely packed with thousands of tourists floating by our hotel window “taking a photo op.”  See the second and third photos (posted below). This massive ship did two laps around the lagoon so both sides of the vessel could view Venice before setting sail to another port.

Venice is very much designed on a human scale, like Charleston. The sheer size of the ship was stunning. Once here, you realize the need to completely avoid areas where the ship tourists are released at cretain times of the day, much like a tidal wave of humans covering every square inch of free space.

After my third day here I started thinking what if they had a few paved streets and then tried to imagine cars and carriages in the mix?

Scary stuff, no doubt.

—Chuck and Liz Sullivan

(pictures and follow up comment follow)










…same ship here and below.









Tried to get the buildings in the shot to show scale.










Thank you all for your comments on Thursday’s blog.  Note that the two pictures just above are of the Norwegian “Jade,” a 2400-passenger ship that’s smaller than many other ships that visit Venice.  The top picture appears to be that of the larger MSC “Poesia,” a 16-deck, 3,000-passenger ship.  Please note that even the SPA’s voluntary limits permit ships up to 3,500 passengers, larger than either of these two ships, into Charleston.


Written by jwilliams
The Charleston Cruise Control Blog, written by Jay Williams, Jr., published periodically since May, 2011, consists of opinions and discussions about cruise ship tourism. Although Jay is involved with various local organizations, the opinions he expresses are solely his; they do not represent the views of any organization or other individual.  Mr. Williams is an independent blogger/writer. We present these blogs for C4 website visitors as an information source and as an additional way to chronologically follow the debates, commentaries and discussions about cruise tourism in Charleston.

CHS | TODAY is the Day to Write Your Letter!

If you think sending a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers regarding the proposed giant cruise terminal isn’t important, please consider the events of May 12, 2015.  This was the day the City Council was to vote on implementing the Tourism Management Committee’s recommendations for Charleston.  At that meeting, Mayor Joseph P. Riley introduced SC State Ports Authority’s CEO Jim Newsome as the “world’s greatest port manager.”  That set the stage for two bizarre occurrences.

The Tourism Management Committee, led by Kitty Robinson, President of Historic Charleston Foundation, was comprised of 27 individuals connected with or impacted by tourism.  Members of the Committee included transportation companies, hoteliers, retailers, neighborhood representatives, preservationists, City staffers and more who worked diligently for well over a year to revise a tourism management plan that hadn’t been updated since 1998.  On May 12th at City Hall their recommendations were handed out to every City Council member to vote on.  Then the first bizarre incident occurred.

The last page of recommendations was missing.  The report “…didn’t include recommendations from the city’s Planning Commission that city and SPA leaders look for an alternative site for the [cruise] terminal,” said the Post and Courier(1)  How could that possibly happen?  That page featured the Tourism Management Committee’s final recommendation to study of alternate cruise terminal locations.  That same recommendation previously passed the Planning Commission by an 8-1 vote.(2)  Remember, this recommendation was to “study alternate sites” for a terminal, it was not a motion to move the proposed terminal location.   Surprisingly, the missing page featured the one recommendation both the mayor and the CEO of the SPA opposed.

The second bizarre incident occurred when the SPA’s CEO Jim Newsome spoke to City Council and enumerated several key points.  One was bizarre.  He said that cruise ships aren’t “tourism” that can be regulated by any Tourism Management Plan, that this is a “maritime” activity.  It was consistent with his assertion back in 2012, “In my view, cruising is a maritime commerce business, not a tourism business. 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.”(3)   Not only was this a contridiction of the early promise of the millions of dollars the cruise business would inject into the City’s economy, but it’s bizarre to think that those thousands of passengers disgorged onto the City’s streets are somehow not tourists but “maritime commerce.”  Then what are all those people doing out on land, littering the place with paper cups, and causing gridlock on our streets?

It’s not just the soot, the noise, the traffic, or the “maritime commerce” people aimlessly wondering the streets eating ice cream that you should consider.  It is that “airport” that Mr. Newsome says it is…a hub, a border crossing…a giant terminal with people coming and going everywhere, mostly not to Charleston.  And all too soon, those cruise passengers will be going to Cuba, and with the newly widened Panama Canal, huge ships will be coming in from China, too.  And with the 1800’ pier already at Union Pier, there’s plenty of room for any giant ship afloat.  Yes, the SPA has agreed to “voluntary limits” on cruise ship sizes and visits, but the SPA refuses to make those limits mandatory or enforceable.

Jonathan B. Tourtellot, a National Geographic fellow and founding director of the Center for Sustainable Destinations, says that a new Union Pier terminal may ultimately diminish and damage Charleston’s attractiveness labeling cruising “the strip mine of 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,” Tourtellot said, adding, “Charleston has a strong history of fine-tuning the balance of tourism, 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.”(3)  Is this what lies ahead for Charleston?

So on May 12th, how do you think the City Council voted on the Tourism Committee’s final (missing) recommendation to simply “study” alternate cruise terminal locations?

Write your letter TODAY.

—Jay Williams Jr.

#   #   #


1)  Charleston, State Ports Authority scuttle talk of alternative Cruise Terminal Site, Post and Courier

2)  Planning Commission wants City to find an alternative site for cruise terminal – Post and Courier

3)  Community:  All Aboard  –  Charleston Magazine


Here is a link to the Charleston Communities for Cruise Control that enumerates the top concerns to include in your letter; please be sure to note that this terminal should be moved away from the historic district and downtown.

Letters should be received by September 23rd mailed to this address:

Permit Number SAC-2003-13026
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Regulatory Division
Attn:  Mr. Nat Ball
69A Hagood Avenue
Charleston, SC  29403

You may also email your comments to the Coastal Conservation League by noon on September 22nd at this link and they will hand deliver your comments to the Army Corps by the 23rd:

See the mayoral candidates’ responses to the Coastal Conservation League’s question about “cruise control.”

See the mayoral candidates’ responses to the Coastal Conservation League’s question about “cruise control.” Stavrinakis: Stavrinakis declined the League’s invitation to participate in the one-hour interview.

Ginny Deerin:

William Dudley Gregorie:

Toby Smith:

John Tecklenburg:

Paul Tinkler:

Maurice Washington:

Army Corps allows 30-day extension in Charleston cruise terminal permit process

The Army Corps of Engineers is giving the public more time to comment on a proposed cruise ship terminal at Union Pier in Charleston, extending the deadline by a month to Sept. 23.

The comment period had been set to expire Monday.

Sean McBride, an Army Corps spokesman, said the federal agency’s decision is “in response to people interested in the entire package” of cruise ship terminal documents.

“We have received a number of written comments that describe ongoing concerns associated with existing cruise operations and express concerns about continuing cruise operations” at Union Pier, the Army Corps’ updated public notice states. McBride said the agency has received between 50 and 60 written comments.

The State Ports Authority, which wants to build the $35 million terminal, last month submitted about 40,000 pages of documents along with its application for a construction permit. That permit has to be approved by state and federal officials because it involves adding clusters of pilings beneath an existing wharf along the Cooper River.

Blan Holman, a lawyer representing opponents of the terminal, said the SPA had tried to thwart efforts to stop the project by dumping “disorganized material on the public” and expecting them to be able to “get through that in 30 days.”

“This was done in response to the Corps’ requests for specific information, but SPA gave them a giant, confused pile of emails, legal filings, reports, questionnaires and media stories from the past,” said Holman, with the Southern Environmental Law Center. “It’s not a good sign for moving the dialogue forward quickly and positively.”

SPA spokeswoman Erin Dhand said the agency “defers to the Corps of Engineers on procedural matters related to their permitting process.”

She added that the SPA is “confident that we will ultimately receive permission to move forward with the new cruise terminal on Union Pier.”

In its updated public notice for the project, the Army Corps notes that “a number of comments received to date have requested additional time to provide comments … including on the (SPA’s) background documents.” The notice states that the Army Corps believes “the public’s review of this documentation is unnecessary” because the 15-page application contains “sufficient information to give a clear understanding of the nature and magnitude” of the proposal.

The SPA’s previous permit application was tossed out by a federal judge in 2013 because the proposal did not consider the terminal’s impact on the city’s Historic District.

A separate lawsuit over a state permit is pending, with final briefings submitted to the state’s Court of Appeals. No hearing date has been scheduled in that case. A state Administrative Law Court judge previously ruled that residents and environmentalists lacked legal standing to oppose the state permit.

First proposed five years ago, the terminal would replace a 42-year-old facility used mostly by Carnival Cruise Lines and its 2,056-passenger Fantasy. Carnival will replace that ship in February with the Ecstasy, which has newer amenities but the same passenger capacity.

The permits would allow five additional clusters of pilings beneath an old Union Pier warehouse that will be renovated as a new terminal north of the existing building. The SPA says the new site won’t affect historic properties and will reduce traffic because currently closed streets would be open for public use. Limited outdoor air testing at Union Pier shows no pollution above federal guidelines, even when a cruise ship is in port.

Cruise supporters have said the industry is an important part of the Lowcountry’s larger tourism economy and a source of jobs.

Opponents say they don’t want to ban all cruise ships but want the authority to consider a site at the Columbus Street Terminal, which is farther north from the Historic District, for the new passenger terminal. SPA chief executive Jim Newsome has said there is no room at that property, which is used primarily to export BMW vehicles.

Newsome has said the SPA does not plan to exceed a voluntary cap of 104 cruise ship visits annually, and no ship larger than 3,500-passenger capacity. There were 189,050 cruise ship passengers at the Port of Charleston during the most recent fiscal year, which ended June 30. That was a 1.8 percent decline from the previous year.

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


**The State Ports Authority is making available DVDs containing the 40,000 pages of documentation submitted to the Army Corps of Engineers in support of plans to build a new cruise terminal at Union Pier. Requests for the information should be submitted to Patrick Moore at

S.C. Supreme Court: Charleston cruise terminal fight doesn’t deserve special legal treatment

An effort to take the battle over a proposed Charleston cruise ship terminal straight to the state’s highest court has been shot down in a move that’s likely to draw out the dispute involving the State Ports Authority, neighborhood groups and preservationists.

The S.C. Supreme Court on Friday denied the SPA’s request to leapfrog the S.C. Court of Appeals. The order did not give a reason for the denial.

The SPA wanted the Supreme Court to hear an appeal over a state permit it received to build the $35 million cruise terminal, saying the issue has such significant public interest that it deserves special treatment. The maritime agency also said in court papers that whoever loses at the appeals court probably will seek to take the case to the high court, making the interim step a waste of time.

The case now will move to the S.C. Court of Appeals. Final briefings have been submitted but no hearing date has been scheduled.

Erin Dhand, spokeswoman for the SPA, said: “We appreciate the Supreme Court’s consideration and look forward to the Court of Appeals finally resolving the issues.”

The Southern Environmental Law Center, which is representing environmentalists and neighborhood groups, appealed an administrative law court’s decision last year to issue a permit that would let the SPA put more support pilings beneath a warehouse at Union Pier. That building is the proposed site of the new terminal.

Opponents of the project say it will create more pollution, noise, traffic and other quality-of-life concerns. They want cruise lines to follow municipal laws that protect the city’s environment and historic assets. Cruise ship supporters say the industry is an important part of the area’s tourism economy and a source of jobs.

The state permit was issued in 2012 by the Department of Health and Environmental Control. In the appeal of that decision, an administrative law judge said Charleston residents did not have standing to challenge the terminal’s construction.

“We look forward to having an appeals court review the administrative law judge’s decree that basically no one is entitled to contest the legality of permits issued for a $35 million leisure cruise terminal in historic Charleston,” Blan Holman, a lawyer for the Southern Environmental Law Center, said in a statement.

A separate federal permit required to build the terminal is being reviewed by the Army Corps of Engineers, which is accepting public comments through Aug. 24. The SPA last week resubmitted its permit application after a federal judge in 2013 tossed its previous application, saying it didn’t consider the terminal’s impact on the Historic District.

The latest application includes 40,000 pages of documents the SPA says address quality-of-life and other issues raised by the law center. Holman said his group will ask the Army Corps to extend the comment period because of the volume of material. There has been no decision on that request.

The SPA wants to build a new $35 million terminal to replace the 42-year-old facility that handles passengers mostly for Carnival Cruise Lines and its 2,056-passenger Fantasy ship. The new facility would be north of the existing terminal.

The SPA has agreed to limit to 104 the number of cruise ships visits to the Port of Charleston each year, and will not allow any cruise ship larger than 3,500-passenger capacity.

Reach David Wren at 937-5550 or on Twitter at @David_Wren

Air quality

  • Outdoor air testing at Union Pier continues to show no apparent relation between pollution and cruise ships.
  • Testing during the 2nd quarter showed no emissions exceeded federal standards during the 3-month period, even on days when a cruise ship was in port, according to a report from testing firm Arcadis.
  • The testing by shows the highest 24-hour average reading for nitrogen dioxide was 31.36 parts per billion, well below the Environmental Protection Agency’s air-quality standard of 100 parts per billion for outdoor air. That high reading occurred April 2, when the Carnival Fantasy was in port.
  • Sulfur dioxide levels at Union Pier hit a high of 35.59 parts per billion May 23, when no ship was in port. That is lower than the EPA’s air-quality standard of 75 parts per billion.
  • A part per billion is a way to measure tiny quantities and is roughly equivalent to a pinch of salt in 10 tons of potato chips.
  • Particulate matter — including acids such as nitrates and sulfates, organic chemicals, metals and soil or dust particles — also are well below EPA limits for the reporting period.
  • Readings from Feb. 25-March 31, the first period tested, also showed no pollution above air-quality standards at Union Pier.
  • Nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and particulate matter are among the most common pollutants from cruise ship emissions.

Alleged document dump has cruise terminal opponents crying foul

Charleston resident Stephen Gates would like more time to review documents the State Ports Authority submitted with its latest application this week for a cruise ship terminal at Union Pier.

The Army Corps on Thursday announced a 30-day period during which residents, neighborhood groups and others can comment on the permit application. It expires Aug. 24.

Gates, whose Historic District home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, said the Army Corps should extend the comment period and schedule a public hearing for the project.

Sean McBride, a spokesman for the Army Corps, said the agency has already given residents more time to review the proposal.

“Public notices are typically only issued for 15 days, but due to the nature of this permit application, we proactively issued it for 30 days,” McBride said, adding that any extension requests would be taken on a case-by-case basis.

“We have granted them in the past, typically to resource agencies that are understaffed and feel like they have valuable input,” he said.

The SPA is staying out of the comment period fray.

“The ports authority defers to the Corps’ judgment on the time for any public notice period for its permitting process,” SPA spokeswoman Erin Dhand said.

Blan Holman, a lawyer for the Southern Environmental Law Center, which is suing the SPA in an attempt to stop the terminal’s construction, said his group will ask for more review time. Holman said he’s seen the 40,000 pages of materials, and they are “a complete mess.”

The documents “appear to consist of a disorganized dump of random information and legal pleadings that the Corps and the public will have trouble navigating,” Holman said, adding there is no index or organization of the paperwork.

He said the SPA is using the documents “to shut down citizen inquiries.”

Permit primer

The SPA wants to build a new terminal to replace the 42-year-old facility that handles passengers mostly for Carnival Cruise Lines and its 2,056-passenger Fantasy ship.

The SPA has asked for permission to install five additional clusters of pilings beneath an old Union Pier warehouse north of the existing terminal that will be renovated as a new facility. Environmentalists and neighborhood groups say the new terminal will create more pollution, noise, traffic and other quality-of-life concerns. They want cruise lines to follow municipal laws that protect the city’s environment and historic assets. And they want an environmental impact study to be completed before any construction takes place.

Cruise ship supporters say the industry is an important part of the tourism economy and a source of jobs

The SPA previously tried to get a federal permit for the terminal, but that application was tossed out by a federal judge in 2013 because it did not consider the terminal’s impact on the city’s Historic District.

A separate lawsuit over a permit issued by the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control is pending, with final briefings submitted to the state’s Court of Appeals but no hearing date scheduled.

Dhand said terminal opponents have had plenty of time to review the documentation.

“The vast majority of those documents are the discovery documents from the DHEC permit litigation, which means that, at least for the cruise opponents, all of those documents have been available for review for well over a year, and for some documents over two years,” Dhand said.

“While the administrative record supporting the permit review is voluminous, I think it is important to note that the project under review is the same project that the Corps previously reviewed and that DHEC permitted in 2012,” she said.

McBride said the 40,000 pages aren’t readily available for public review. To actually see them, someone would have to file a Freedom of Information Act request. What is publicly available is a 15-page notice that “provides a summation of a few pages of what we felt like the public would need to know for them to make a comment,” McBride said.

The notice includes technical drawings and an outline of the pilings installation process, but it does not say what impact the terminal will have on quality of life in the Historic District. The Army Corps says it will consult with national and state historic preservation offices — and other groups that wish to be heard, if they respond within the 30-day period — “to gather additional information about the project site and the surrounding area to inform an effects determination.”

Port haters?

The new cruise terminal has been a contentious issue ever since the SPA first proposed it five years ago.

Holman said the SPA has branded residents who don’t like the cruise ships as enemies, even though many of them support the port’s cargo operations.

Jim Newsome, the authority’s CEO, said in an email that is part of the 40,000 pages of documents that opponents can’t have it both ways.

“I would say that these people do not hate cruise and love the port, they hate the very idea of us being a port,” Newsome said in an email seeking advice on the issue from a public relations expert. “It’s like saying you love dogs but you do not ever plan to feed them because they might (relieve themselves) on the rug.”

Newsome has said he’s tried to accommodate Historic District residents with a self-imposed limit of 104 cruise ship visits annually and no ship larger than 3,500-passenger capacity. He says the Charleston market isn’t big enough to handle anything more than that.

Newsome also has bristled at environmentalists’ suggestion that the cruise terminal be moved farther north to the Columbus Street Terminal — “We need every acre of space on this terminal for freight,” he said in April — and proposals that electric shore power devices be installed to reduce emissions while ships are in port.

Limited outdoor air testing at Union Pier shows no pollution above federal guidelines, even when a cruise ship is in port.

Gates, the Charleston resident with a historic home just blocks from the terminal, said he is undeterred in his opposition. But he adds that residents and the SPA should be on a level playing field when it comes to voicing their opinions.

“Public citizens should not be disadvantaged by this inundation of material,” he said.

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

Army Corps opens public comment period for Charleston cruise terminal permit

The Army Corps of Engineers issued a public notice Thursday that could reactivate plans for a new cruise ship terminal at Union Pier in downtown Charleston.

To read the public notice go to and go to the “Public Notices” section.

The public can comment in writing and request a hearing on the State Ports Authority’s permit request until Aug. 24.

The SPA is proposing to build the $35 million terminal. It said this week that it has provided the Army Corps with about 40,000 pages of material to address concerns downtown residents and environmental groups have raised about pollution, noise and other quality-of-life issues.

The permit would allow five additional clusters of pilings beneath an old Union Pier warehouse that will be renovated as a new terminal north of the existing facility. A federal judge tossed out the SPA’s previous permit application in 2013, saying it did not consider the terminal’s impact on the city’s Historic District.

A separate lawsuit over a state-issued permit is pending.

First proposed five years ago, the new terminal would replace a 42-year-old building that handles cruises for Carnival Cruise Lines’ 2,056-passenger Fantasy ship, as well as other pleasure vessels. Carnival’s Ecstasy, which has newer amenities but the same passenger capacity, will call the Port of Charleston home beginning in February.