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.

Mayoral Candidate Ginny Deerin’s thoughts on some issues in Charleston

1) Cruise Ships

Below is Ginny’s position on tourism / cruise ships as published in Mercury. I’ve also included a link with all the candidates’ responses.

Ginny Deerin

Our city has become a top tourist destination because we are one of the most beautiful, interesting and vibrant cities in the world. Yet, if we are not thoughtful and deliberate in our planning, Charleston could become a victim of our own success. The recent Tourism Management Plan is a step in the right direction and will help preserve our unique character. It will work to reduce congestion, which is critical for our quality of life. Broadly, we need to highlight attractions beyond the lower Peninsula. Introducing tourists to other parts of Charleston should be a priority. We need to ensure that our city remains a place Charlestonians thrive in, not just a place tourists want to visit.

There are serious differences among the mayoral candidates, when it comes to cruise ship concerns. The port has enormous value to our city, but the current size, frequency and environmental impacts of cruise ships are damaging. Mandating shore side power will help protect our environment. Moving the site of the new passenger terminal outside of the already congested historic district should be reconsidered. I have experience working with others to foster consensus — and would engage with all relevant stakeholders to achieve a better outcome for the city of Charleston.


2) Sgt Jasper

Couple things here.

First, I checked back on recent articles. Thankfully, I didn’t see any press incorrectly reporting that Ginny had campaign money from the Beach Company. As mentioned yesterday – Ginny has not taken a campaign contribution from the Beach Company. We’re pretty clear on this principle… When the Beach Company tried to donate, our campaign said No Thanks and mailed back their check. (if you happen to hear anything to the contrary moving forward, I’d love to know so we can set the record straight)

Second, below is a link to Ginny’s statement on the Beach Co’s latest Sgt Jasper:

3) Contribution Info
Lastly – I wanted to send along information for a contribution – you give online or by check:

You can give online at

You can make a check payable to “Ginny Deerin for Mayor”  and mail it to: Ginny Deerin for Mayor, PO Box 32072, Charleston, SC 29417.

Port Love | If You Were Mayor

Port Love

Jun 30, 2015 by Whitney Powers

We applaud the Ports Authority for their $5 million investment to be used for the purchase and protection of land along the Cooper River watershed to mitigate the potential effects of deepening Charleston Harbor. The agreement, made earlier this year, was reached in collaboration with the Lowcountry Open Land Trust, the Coastal Conservation League, and the Southern Environmental Law Center. This type of cooperative work can make our city and port even better.



The port has existed here for virtually as long as the settlement of Charleston.  Today, the port consists of five public marine terminals and is owned and operated by the South Carolina Ports Authority (SCPA), a self-governing entity created by the South Carolina General Assembly in 1942, with board members appointed by the state’s Governor and confirmed by the State Senate.


The historical significance of the port is illustrated by Charleston’s colorful maritime history, with many of the city’s earliest historic structures having been constructed as businesses associated with port operations – cooperages (barrels are the original “containers”), smithies, stevedoring companies, warehouses, etc.  The city’s historic waterfront, now a public promenade and park, was once marked by numerous wharfs, hundreds of masts of sailing vessels, shipbuilding, and provisioning operations. If other myths hold any truth, numerous of the city’s earliest streets and walks were constructed from ballast recycled from ships loaded with items destined for global destinations, including indigo, rice, and cotton.


This early Charleston invited people of many backgrounds, often unwelcome in other parts of the world, who found their way here for economic opportunities – French, Scottish, Irish, and German, as well as Jews and Catholics. Sephardic Jews (of Spanish and Portugese ancestry) migrated to the city in such numbers that Charleston became one of the largest Jewish communities in North America (see From the late 18th through the 19th century Charleston also served as the most active port in the trade of slaves in America, and many Africans, free and slave, lived here outnumbering white residents by a long shot. (see this animated map illustrating the slave trade that is generated from data at



Today, the port’s focus is the movement of containerized shipments and passenger vehicles; and, it consistently ranks in the top 5 of the nation’s containerized ports. Jobs at the port have long been a fundamental source of well-paying, stable jobs in the Charleston region as evidenced by the success represented by the members of such organizations as the International Longshoremen’s Association and the Charleston Branch Pilots Association. Basically, its operations employ “hundreds of thousands” and generate “in excess of $45 billion per year” in economic impacts.


The port’s mission, as one would expect, is largely focused on the bottom-line, especially as it faces fierce competition from other nearby ports in Savannah and Jacksonville:

“The South Carolina Ports Authority (SCPA) promotes, develops, and facilitates waterborne commerce to meet the current and future needs of its customers, and for the economic benefit of the citizens and businesses of South Carolina. The SCPA fulfills this mission by delivering cost competitive facilities and services, collaborating with customers and stakeholders, and sustaining its financial self-sufficiency.”


Sometimes, adherence to this mission runs up against the interests of many who live in proximity to port facilities. The Port Authority has made many efforts to be responsive to local concerns, but with growth in cruise ship traffic in recent years, the local population has increasingly questioned the port’s intentions and its future. Port officials point to their efforts at downtown’s Union Pier to modernize the passenger terminal facilities, including development of parking facilities and completing road connectivity in the vicinity, to mitigate impacts of the embarkation of cruise ships. The community calls for more controls, including the use of shore power when in port and limitations on the number of cruise ship visits during the course of the year. The port recognizes that cultivating and fostering the community is key to the success of its cruise business. However, at this stage, the back-and-forth has mired everyone in lawsuits and there is frustration on all sides.



A year ago, I traveled to Amsterdam with my daughter and visited the National Maritime Museum of the Netherlands, Het Scheepvaartmuseum. Recognizing that Rotterdam was the largest container port outside of China, I was curious how this museum portrayed this vital industry through their history and how they reconciled this history with the future. The historic exhibits were fascinating – the Dutch essentially invented the concept of container transport – and, in one instance, frightening. Slave Trade: The Dark Chapter (see NYTimes review here), underscored that trade’s horrors through installations focused on the slave ship Leusden which sank in Suriname, South America, in 1738. After the ship ran aground, the ship’s captain ordered the “cargo” to be secured in the hold to ensure the investors received an insurance settlement for the loss, and almost 700 African men, women, and children drowned. If there was one thing you could take away from the exhibit, the Dutch do not shirk the dark side of their shipping history.


The final exhibit in the museum, a film projection, took visitors on to the docks and aboard ship from the point of view of a container, and focused on aspects of shipping that Rotterdam uses to distinguish its competitive edge: efficiency, safety, and sustainability.


This seems an interesting triumvirate to success, and is reflected in the port’s strategic plan, Port Compass 2030 (a synopsis in English is here). This document, developed in cooperation with the municipal government, port business association, provincial government, and national government, focuses on ten priorities ranging from infrastructure development to cultivating education geared towards employment. An annual report keeps all stakeholders informed as to the progress (or lack of progress) in each category.


Digging a bit more, one finds a somewhat different mission statement than that of the SCPA: “The Port of Rotterdam Authority develops, in partnership, the world-class European port.”  The port’s website corroborates the exhibit’s message: “We continuously improve the Port of Rotterdam, to make it the most efficient, safe, and sustainable port in the world…”



Theirs may seem a rather basic inconclusive mission, but there is also a distinction in Rotterdam’s governance that might be a more significant clue to how Charleston’s port might consider serving the community interests along with those commercial goals of the state: “The Port of Rotterdam Authority is an autonomous company with two shareholders, the municipality of Rotterdam and the Dutch state.”


Could the South Carolina Ports Authority in Charleston benefit from a Board of Directors that includes representatives who serve at the behest of the communities most impacted by the port operations? A thriving Charleston benefits most from a thriving, economically viable port relationship. It might be time to consider more ways to deepen the ties that bind us to our historic port, cultivate more ways to foster the resources that we share, and find economic opportunities that can create a competitive edge that is distinctive and adds value for the port’s customers.

Get Cruise Terminal Location Site Right

Get Cruise Terminal Location Site Right

Tourism in Charleston has an economic impact in the billions of dollars. And as the city has been named the country’s No. 1 travel destination, that growth is likely only to speed up.

But tens of thousands of visitors make for challenges for local residents, businesses and government services.

That’s why dozens of citizens, business owners, tourism industry representatives and city officials worked for almost a year to recommend changes to Charleston’s Tourism Management Plan.

That’s also why City Council should approve their impressive work at its meeting Tuesday, including a recommendation to consider another site for cruise ships. A public hearing at 5 p.m. Tuesday, before the council meeting, offers another chance for residents to have their say.

Other recommendations range from improved signage to more regulation of special events to remote parking to a second visitors center farther up the peninsula.

Participants in the process worked hard to balance the benefits of tourism with residents’ quality of life and businesses’ need to operate successfully.

The recommendations should certainly stand up to City Council’s scrutiny. And that includes the cruise ship recommendations.

The most controversial ideas are that a study be done to determine the best site for the State Ports Authority’s new cruise terminal and that shore power be provided.

The SPA says it has done such a site study and the current plan to put it at Union Pier is the best one.

Unfortunately, the public has yet to see that study. And many believe it makes more sense to relocate the cruise ships to the Columbus Street Terminal farther north.

The SPA and Mayor Joe Riley contend there is not enough room to do that.

Spring 2015 Letter to Carnival

Mr. Arnold W. Donald

Carnival Corporation
3655 N.W. 87th Avenue
Miami, FL 33178-2428


Dear Mr. Donald:

The location of a new cruise ship terminal in Charleston has been the subject of controversy since first proposed by the South Carolina State Ports Authority (SPA) over five years ago.

The proposed site at Union Pier in downtown Charleston is directly adjacent to the historic district and historic neighborhoods.

In September 2013 the necessary federal permit was revoked by a federal judge for failure of the Corps of Engineers to conduct required historical and environmental impact studies.

The SPA has yet to re-file for the required permit.

Earlier this month the Charleston Planning Commission, the official body that reviews projects from a sound city planning perspective, voted 8-1 to recommend an alternative location for any new cruise ship terminal.  The Chairman, appointed by the Mayor, expressed the view that a cruise ship terminal hosting 10-15 deck cruise ships and bringing 1000+ cars to and from downtown inappropriate at Union Pier.  This position is shared by a large number of residents and civic organizations.

Our organization, residents and civic organizations do not oppose cruise ships generally, but do share the belief that Union Pier is not an appropriate site to host large cruise ships. We all strongly believe these ships are out of scale with the area, bringing extra traffic to an already congested area and bringing air emissions in the absence of shore power.

We point to other port cities, such as Boston, Miami, St. Lauderdale, San Diego and Brooklyn as examples where the terminals are located outside residential or historic districts.

Now Carnival has added a second larger cruise ship, the Sunshine, to operate out of Charleston along with The Fantasy. We request that you indicate your willingness to work with the City, the SPA and community organizations to explore an alternative terminal location and to use shore power if facilities are made available.

We wonder if the SPA may believe that Carnival is unalterably opposed to an alternate location and unalterably opposed to outfitting ships visiting Charleston with shore power capability?  We hope this is not the case. In fact, we note that in Carnival’s own sustainability reports that you are sensitive to historic and environmentally delicate areas. Likewise, Carnival stated that it believes shore power represents the future for what is used at port cities.

The Charleston historic district is a sensitive small urban area that can easily be swamped by the scale and passenger capacity of modern cruise ships.  Civic groups including The Preservation Society of Charleston, Historic Charleston Foundation and National Trust for Historic Preservation are working diligently to avoid changing the nature of a district so important from an historic preservation and quality of life perspective.

We note that Disney ultimately decided not to build a theme park near Manassas and Wal-Mart did not build near another Civil War landmark, The Wilderness.

We hope Carnival will demonstrate that same corporate responsibility and use its influence and customer status to avoid large cruise ships docking at the historic district in downtown Charleston.

We look forward to receiving your response.


With regards,

Carrie Agnew
Executive Director; C4


cc:         Mr. Gerry Cahill, CEO Carnival Cruise Lines





The Merchants Are Killing Venice

It’s a chilly Monday morning in Venice, and an icy breeze is cutting through the city’s emerald canals. I’m standing at a busy gondola station, squashed between crowds of tourists, waiting not for a ride but a conversation with Diego Redolfi. It’s prime tourist season in Venice, and free time is scarce for the 49-year-old oarsman.

Redolfi is one of more than 400 gondoliers in this famed aquatic city. Each day, he plies its narrow corridors with an expertly wielded paddle, maneuvering his boat around other watercraft, sometimes missing them by inches. Gondoliers are among the most well-paid workers in Venice, earning as much as $150,000 a year. But even that salary isn’t enough to rent a decent-size apartment here, which is why Redolfi and his American wife now live on a nearby island.

The reason the city is so expensive has everything to do with the long line in front of Redolfi’s gondola stand. Over the past 15 years, cruise ship tourism has increased fivefold, and the monstrous vessels have become both a boon and a blight for the city, which is now the cruise capital of Europe. These water-bound hotels of lousy buffet food and schmaltzy entertainment relentlessly dump tourists into Venice’s narrow streets. This should be a good thing in a city that relies mostly on money from outsiders, and tourists from cruise ships spend millions here every year. But industry critics say these visitors don’t waste much time (or money) in restaurants and shops. Some buy pricey rides on gondolas; most grab a few snacks from the ship and wander the streets before departing at sundown. Of the 20 million people who come to Venice each year, only half sleep here, which is why hotel stays have dropped by two-thirds over the past 25 years.

Try Newsweek for only $1.25 per week

Today, day-trippers outnumber both overnight visitors and people who call Venice home. At the same time, the population of Venice is declining, thanks to a dwindling number of jobs that don’t involve tourism, as well as the rising cost of food, transportation and housing. The number of cinemas in Venice has dwindled to two from 20, and business owners now charge “tourist prices” at shops and restaurants even to locals, reversing an age-old practice that made visitors who don’t pay taxes bear a greater financial burden.

Over the past two decades, property owners have increasingly converted apartments into hotels or Airbnb rentals, driving up the costs of permanent housing. The result: Only the wealthy can afford to live here. Three decades ago, more than 120,000 people called Venice home. Today, there are 55,000. By 2030, some demographers predict, there will be no more full-time residents.

Diego Redolfi, who has been a gondolier for 20 years, prepares to pick up a load of tourists for a boat ride in Venice, which has become crushed with tourists in recent decades. “Venice is changing, like the world,” he says. “But it’s still better than any other place in it.” Winston Ross for Newsweek

Disneyland on the Adriatic

Most visitors here are blissfully unaware of what’s happening to Venice. The city’s placid canals, curved bridges and car-free cobblestone streets make it among the world’s most beautiful places. But in 2008, after its population dropped below 60,000, residents organized a “funeral,” complete with a three-gondola cortege carrying a red casket through the city’s canals, to raise awareness about the population decline. The creative protest did nothing to reverse the trend. Both those who live here and those who have been priced out say the soul of the city is dying. What no one seems to be able to agree on: how to resolve the crisis.

Matteo Secchi and his father, Mario, are Venetians by birth and at heart, but not by ZIP code. I meet them one afternoon for some salumi, cheese and a bottle of red wine. Matteo is the manager of a Venice hotel. His father is a distributor for a local winery. At 70, Mario could retire, but work gives him the chance to see old friends in the city he calls home—even if he can’t afford to live here. Instead, Mario lives in nearby Mestre, on the mainland, where he rents an apartment that measures 80 square meters. “I would leave it for 30 in Venice,” he says.

As we eat, father and son argue, as they often do, about tourism. They agree on the problem, which they say is twofold. Longtime residents are being driven out by landlords—who can make more money from wealthy foreigners buying swank vacation apartments than they can renting to families—and by day-trippers, who don’t spend enough money in the city for the government to acquire the kind of taxes it needs to set aside affordable housing for locals.

What they disagree on is the solution. Mario is among a contingent of residents who believe in building gates around Venice and forcing tourists to pay a fee as they come and go. “They should pay, because they dirty the town,” he says. His son believes the tax would turn the city into a theme park. “With an entrance to Venice, we become Disneyland.”

Long before Venice became a tourist sweatshop, city codes capped the maximum rents landlords could charge. In the 1970s, landlords fought to scrap these limits and won, only to watch with dismay as rents spiraled out of control. Fabio Sacco, president of Alilaguna Spa, which runs water shuttles to and from the city’s airport and cruise ship terminal, would like to see the city subdivide some of its palazzos into apartments for couples or young families. “In Venice,” he says, “what we need is medium rents.”

Matteo believes the government should step in too. “The mayor should intervene,” he says, “and force the owners of these apartments to reduce the rent so a normal family can rent it.”

Except there is no mayor of Venice right now. There’s no sitting city government either.

A Sinking Feeling

Part of the reason for Venice’s housing crisis is the city’s most prized asset: water. Since the early 20th century, the Adriatic Sea has repeatedly flooded and damaged the first floors of hundreds of buildings here—yet another reason why the number of apartments is declining. Over the past century, the average water level in Venice has surged, and many experts predict the city has less than 80 years before it is completely underwater.

To resolve this crisis, the Italian government has poured $7 million into the construction of 78 underwater gates designed to divide Venice from the Adriatic whenever sea levels rise to worrisome levels. The project, which began in 2003, is a year or two from completion, but it is now embroiled in a corruption scandal. Former Mayor Giorgio Orsoni, along with 35 public officials and contractors, allegedly skimmed tens of millions of euros from public coffers. The accused officials resigned last summer, and the scandal has left Venice without a formal city government. A federally appointed commissario is now in charge, until the city holds new elections next month, and the fill-in leaders have done little to combat Venice’s housing woes.

“Every person my age understands the problem,” says Alessandro Burbank, a 26-year-old Venice resident. “But those above 50 or so, they’re divided. I love them, they’re humans, but they have the power, and they are the problem. So we just have to wait till the old guys die.”

Burbank and I are sitting on a terrace at sunset in Campo Santo Stefano, a plaza in one of the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods. He’s heading to tango class after this interview—with his mom. If it’s hard to imagine a 20-something taking tango lessons with his mother, understand that Burbank and his mom spend a lot of time together. They live in the same apartment, because that’s the only way Burbank (whose father is American) can afford to stay in Venice.

“It’s not just that it’s expensive,” he tells me over a couple of beers. “It’s that there are no places for exactly one guy to live.”

Most of his classmates left to attend a university and never came back. Burbank, a poet, stayed behind and now makes his living working part time as a bouncer and waiter. He has a girlfriend, but she can’t afford to live in Venice either, so she rents an apartment two hours away by train. If there’s a future for them, it probably means leaving the city he loves, which he doesn’t want to do.

“The life you could imagine 10 or 20 years ago is over now,” he says. “To afford a normal life in Venice with a house, a job, a wife, a family, it no longer exists.”

‘It’s Like Making Love’

At the gondola station, Redolfi has only a few minutes to talk before loading his next set of passengers. I step onto his boat to chat, and he tells me how he’s worked as a gondolier for two decades. Now, he says, business is as good as it’s ever been.

Redolfi started working here because his previous job, as a receptionist at a nearby hotel, didn’t pay enough to live in Venice. So at his brother’s urging, he bought a gondola and practiced for 10 to 12 hours a day, for the better part of a year, until he was good enough to traverse the canals. “It’s like making love,” he says of learning his trade. “Sometimes you don’t [master] it after a lifetime. But in the meantime, you can practice.”

Today, Redolfi can afford to live in Venice, but his apartment would be cramped. Plus, there are fewer tourists where he lives. Over the past two decades, he’s watched the city become overwhelmed by visitors. But they haven’t ruined the place, he says—at least, not yet. “Venice is changing, like the world,” he says. “But it’s still better than any other place in it.”

We say goodbye and I step off his gondola, making way for his next tour group, which boards and fills his velvet seats. From the dock, I watch as Redolfi dips his oar into the water and guides his passengers beneath a nearby bridge, then drifts out of sight.

New terminal site worth a look | Editorial

New terminal site worth a look
The Post and Courier

Neighbors, preservationists, environmentalists, physicians, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and even the S.C. Supreme Court have said that the cruise industry is making problems for Historic Charleston.

Now the city Planning Commission has joined the chorus. It is a disappointment and a puzzlement that Mayor Joe Riley has said the recommendation is not even worth considering.

In its meeting Monday to consider proposed changes to the city’s Tourism Management Plan, the Planning Commission surprised the audience by voting 8-1 in favor of reconsidering the site for the new State Ports Authority passenger terminal.

Instead of simply approving the plan, the commission added a stipulation: Consider a site farther away from the city’s congested historic district.

It’s a worthy suggestion and one that the mayor and Charleston City Council should examine seriously when the issue is considered on May 12.

The mayor’s deaf ear on this issue has angered residents, who have been saying for years that cruise ships need to be regulated and that the site of a new passenger terminal needs to be moved.

The mayor has contended that complaints about traffic, congestion, air pollution and noise are exaggerated, unfounded and even elitist.

The SPA contends that it has already investigated alternate sites and chosen Union Pier because it works best. But the public has not been privy to that report, and it should be.

Further, if the SPA is to reapply for a federal permit to drive piles for the terminal, providing such a report will likely be required. So why not go ahead and share the information?

City Council needs to stand up for what is in the best interest of the city and its residents. One factor to take into account is that the tourism management recommendations include construction of a second visitors center farther north on the peninsula. A passenger terminal farther up the river might dovetail nicely.

Planning Commission Chairman Francis X. McCann said at the meeting that the city has the luxury of taking a breather on the subject. The SPA’s construction plans are on hold due to a court ruling. Meanwhile, it has become clear that cruise ships have not grown the local economy as the SPA predicted.

During that lull, city residents should expect that an independent, objective, comprehensive study be done on something as important as the terminal site — and that the full study be made public.

The new guidelines regarding cruise ships, if accepted, ask for four things: remote parking for passengers; shore power to cut down on air pollution from ships running their engines while at dock; a head tax to help reimburse the city for expenses associated with cruises; and a strengthening of the regulations limiting the number and size of cruise ships in Charleston.

Those are all reasonable recommendations, and the location of the terminal is every bit as important to the city of Charleston — particularly its historic area. Maybe more so.

Mr. McCann said that earnest negotiations are not too much to ask of the SPA. He also said that it’s time for Charleston’s leadership to concede that there is not a city in the country or in the world that has benefited culturally from having a cruise terminal in a historic area.

The Planning Commission correctly acknowledged the hard work of the many people who contributed to the Tourism Management Plan. That plan offers insightful and helpful ways to protect the city’s livability amid the strains of fast-increasing tourism. Its recommendation to reconsider locating the terminal up the river should be viewed as an enhancement to the larger plan.

The mayor and City Council have so far been cavalier about their constituents’ concerns and have simply accepted the SPA’s option as presented. But they have offered no acceptable reasons not to negotiate with the SPA to ensure that the terminal site is best for the city as well as for the SPA.

Planning Commission wants city to find alternative site for cruise terminal

Charleston’s long-awaited tourism management plan got a green light to move forward Monday provided city leaders look for an alternative to Union Pier as the site of a new cruise ship terminal.

The city’s Planning Commission voted 8-1 to recommend to City Council that it approve the plan, with the condition that Council consider a new site for the terminal farther away from the city’s historic district. Dozens of people attended the meeting at the Charleston County Public Library on Calhoun Street.

Horse-drawn carriages and cars, both parked and on the move, share space on lower Meeting Street. Wade Spees/Staff

City leaders, with the help of a 27-member committee, have been working since December 2013 to update the plan, which hasn’t been updated since 1998. It strives to balance the needs of a strong tourism industry with residents’ concerns.

Tourism is a huge industry in Charleston, said city planning director Tim Keane. Visitors make up 16 percent of the city’s economy. And the industry is growing. The city had 2544 hotel rooms in 1995. Today, it has more than 3,569.

The plan addresses: tourism management and enforcement, visitor orientation, quality of life, special events and mobility and transportation.

Charleston Mayor Joe Riley said City Council approved the plan for the new terminal on Union Pier four years ago. And it won’t cause traffic congestion, he said, because Concord Street will be opened up and traffic will flow more smoothly.

Council isn’t required to follow the Planning Commission’s recommendation.

Carrie Agnew, executive director of Charleston Communities for Cruise Control, during the public comment portion of the meeting said “We need to re-establish the delicate balance between tourism and the people who live here.”

She remembers a time when she lived on Hassell Street and had to participate in a conference call in her bathroom because a cruise ship had just arrived and there was so much noise she couldn’t hear the call.

And a cruise terminal at Union Pier will make noise and traffic congestion worse, she said. “It absolutely should not be in the historic district.”

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

Opponents said they don’t want to ban all cruise ships, but they want the authority to consider sites other than Union Pier, and sites farther from the city’s historic district, for its new cruise ship terminal. Legal wrangling over that site — the 60 acres between Market, Washington and Laurens streets and the harbor — has slowed the state’s plans to redevelop the blighted area.

Traffic congestion related to tourism was another major concern raised at the meeting.

Keane said one of the key parts of the plan is to build a new visitors center farther north on the peninsula. People can park there and take public transportation to the historic district, he said. That should help alleviate some of the tourist traffic problems.

City Council must approve the plan. It will hold a public hearing and vote on initial approval on May 12. It will vote on whether to give the plan final approval May 26.

Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491 or on Twitter at @dianeknich.