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Letter to Planning Commission re. 2015 Update to the Tourism Management Plan, Cruise Recommendations

April 6, 2015
City of Charleston Planning Commission
68 Calhoun Street
Charleston, SC 29403

Re: 2015 Update to the Tourism Management Plan, Cruise Recommendations

Dear City of Charleston Planning Commissioners:
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the draft City of Charleston Tourism Management Plan—2015 Plan Update. Charleston Communities for Cruise Control (C4) includes residents of the greater Charleston area, downtown business owners, and others concerned that the delicate balance of our historic residential port city be restored while continuing to provide an unforgettable tourist experience. The Coastal Conservation League represents 5,000 members and works to protect the natural landscapes, abundant wildlife, clean water, and quality of life here in South Carolina.

Updating our city’s tourism management plan is an opportunity to achieve a delicate balance between tourism and residential quality of life. Several recommendations related to cruise tourism are included in the document, for which we commend the committee. However, it is imperative that the City take a proactive stance with cruise tourism, as it has done with all other facets of tourism here, particularly since the cruise industry is one of the fastest-growing in the world.

No other cruise port in the world has hosted cruises without detrimental effects, and many have implemented guidelines in order to protect their communities. Implementation of our suggested changes will help our city once again be a leading force for tourism management in the nation as well a vibrant living historic city.

Therefore, here are four changes that will strengthen the document before you tonight:

Shorepower for Ships
Rather than the ongoing milestone “continuing the dialogue on the installation of shore power,” the City of Charleston should expect that the State Ports Authority (SPA) is contracting only homeported ships that are shore power-capable.
If that expectation is not met, the SPA will not renew contracts and only work with homeported ships that are shore power-capable.
Our suggestion complements both the South Carolina State Legislature’s budget proviso, which states that any cruise terminal built or designed in Charleston County during the 2014-2015 fiscal year must be capable of providing electrical shore power to the ships it serves, as well as Charleston City Council’s 2014 resolution, which supports shore power at the cruise terminal if needed. It is needed now. Because it has been demonstrated by the foremost expert on shipping emissions that shorepower is needed, and several other ports around the world have implemented the use of shore power without any regulatory mandate, a recommendation in the updated Tourism Management Plan requiring shorepower capability both landside and shipside for the cruise industry is sensible and overdue.

We recommend the deadline for achieving this milestone be set for the port and city to pass a joint resolution agreeing to these retrofits by December 2015.

Pollution Logs
Charleston takes its water quality and aesthetics seriously, and with good reason: the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism has valued coastal tourism, boat manufacturing, and commercial fisheries as totaling more than $11.5 billion in direct, indirect, and induced resources annually. Federal law allows the cruise industry to discharge raw sewage, garbage, and untreated graywater when at least three miles from shore.
Carnival claims it has a voluntary corporate policy not to discharge anything within twelve miles of shore, but does not provide proof. Therefore, we recommend adding that the port and City of Charleston publish quarterly records supplied by Carnival Corporation on discharges made within   twelve miles of Charleston’s shores, and agree to start doing so within three months.

Legalize limits
The addition of the Carnival Sunshine as a second homeported ship in Charleston shows the need to strengthen the limits of a maximum of 104 cruise visits per year that carry no more than 3,500 passengers per ship.

The current ordinance details a one-year notification process for the SPA to alert the city to increases beyond their currently-stated limits. It is not an ordinance designed to maintain a balance. This should be revised to officially set the limits at 104 ship visits per year, with no ship larger than 3,500 passenger capacity. The city must have the power to do with cruise ships exactly what it does with every other type of tourism.

Location, location, location
We are pleased to support the evaluation of remote passenger parking within a year to reduce congestion.
It is important to note that the City of Charleston and community groups have spent considerable amounts of money and time (Charleston Mobility Report by Gabe Klein; City of Charleston Downtown Plan; City of Charleston Century V Plan) to assess how to reduce traffic congestion on the peninsula, and are examining outer area parking at garages in the Neck area, and increasing shuttles, bike share, and other solutions. To allow cruise passengers to continue to drive into the heart of the peninsula is not consistent with other traffic studies.
In addition, within three months, the port must make public its assessment of alternative sites for the cruise terminal and how it reached the conclusion that the southeast’s most valuable waterfront property is most appropriate as a cruise terminal, particularly when cruise only constitutes approximately five percent of the port’s overall business. The location of a cruise terminal in the heart of historic downtown is in direct contrast with what other cruise ports across the country have designed. The SPA must also show how this particular cruise location fits within the vision the city is moving towards with development and quality of life on the peninsula.
The port should also present the development plan for the entirety of the Union Pier property in order to clarify which entities will have what responsibility—for example, many citizens wrongly believe that if the new cruise terminal is located at the northern end of Union Pier, the city will then own the remainder of the property.
Thank you for your consideration of our suggestions. We seek to make this update to the Tourism Management Plan the best possible, and believe that implementation of our suggestions will do so.

Sincerely,
Carrie Agnew
Executive Director
Charleston Communities for Cruise Control (C4)
cruisestandards@gmail.com
Katie Zimmerman
Program Director
Air, Water & Public Health
Coastal Conservation League
katiez@scccl.org

Cruise opponents see dark lining in Sunshine’s arrival

Charleston residents battling the cruise ship industry say Carnival Cruise Lines’ plans to have another cruise ship depart from here next year is proof that their fight is a necessary one.

“I think we knew it was coming,” said Carrie Agnew, executive director of the Charleston Communities for Cruise Control, which has bought billboards and pursued legal action to torpedo the cruise industry’s growth here.

The addition of the Carnival Sunshine and its 3,000 potential passengers has reinforced Cruise Control’s message and already added to its mailing list, Agnew said.

“There are those who just don’t see the big picture and say, ‘Everything is fine now. Why should we be concerned?’ ” Agnew said. “So many people also have said, ‘Charleston is at a tipping point.’ I stood up at a meeting and said, ‘We’re not at a tipping point. We’ve tipped over,’ and now we’re adding more fuel to the fire.”

On Monday, Carnival Cruise Lines announced it will add five departures from Charleston next year for the Sunshine. Carnival’s Fantasy, which holds about 1,000 fewer passengers, will continue to call Charleston its home port.

The Sunshine will offer cruises of between two and 10 days between Charleston and ports in the Bahamas, St. Thomas, Antigua, Martinique, St. Kitts and San Juan.

State Ports Authority director Jim Newsome said the port will maintain its level of fewer than 104 cruise ship departures next year.

One of the biggest issues in Charleston’s yearslong cruise ship fight is fear that the city eventually will be overrun by larger ships carrying ever more passengers and calling on the city more often.

City and State Ports Authority officials say those concerns are unfounded, and they have agreed to limit cruise ships to no more than an average of two calls here a week, and no more than one at a time. Opponents want those voluntarily limits written into a law.

Cruise ship supporters have said the industry is an important part of the Lowcountry’s larger tourism economy, a source of jobs and a continuation of an activity that this port city has had from its earliest days.

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.

Cruise opponents also said not enough is being done to address traffic congestion caused by ship visits, air pollution from smokestacks, noise from ship horns and public address systems, and the visual impact on the city’s historic skyline. They have filed legal challenges in both state and federal courts.

Blan Holman, managing attorney for the Charleston office of the Southern Environmental Law Center and a lawyer for the cruise ship opponents, said the news of the Sunshine’s visits here next year shows the cruise industry can get bigger in Charleston.

“And that just makes thorough review of a new, larger terminal more important than ever to make sure we examine all options for reducing pollution and traffic and impacts on families and neighborhoods,” he said.

Randy Pelzer, head of the Charles Towne Neighborhood’s cruise ship task force, said news of the Sunshine’s arrival doesn’t mean much in terms of current legal battles, “but I think it points out that residents aren’t consulted in terms of the larger number of cruise ships that impact them.”

“I was surprised there wasn’t any effort to notify the residents ahead of time, that we found out about it after it was a done deal,” he added, “but that’s the way it has been from the beginning.”

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.
Click to view article

More container volume, new cruise ship for Port of Charleston

The Port of Charleston is seeing an increase in both cargo and cruise ships.

Carnival Cruise Lines announced Monday that it will add five departures in 2016 for its Carnival Sunshine cruise ship. Those voyages will be in addition to departures by the Carnival Fantasy, which calls Charleston its home port.

Meanwhile, at the cargo docks, the port notched a 16.9 percent increase in the number of containers that moved through local terminals in February compared to the previous year, and Jim Newsome – president and CEO of the State Ports Authority – said Monday that he expects the total to top 1 million containers before the end of this fiscal year.

“February container volumes were particularly strong for a short month,” Newsome said following a meeting of the SPA’s board of directors. “Our import gains are reflective of a strengthening U.S. economy and population growth across the Southeast, while manufacturing in our state and region bolsters our export business. Loaded-box volumes last month were nearly completely balanced between imports and exports.”

In the cruise news, the Carnival Sunshine is a larger ship than the Fantasy, carrying about 1,000 more passengers and crew. It will offer cruises of between two and 10 days and will sail to ports in the Bahamas, St. Thomas, Antigua, Martinique, St. Kitts and San Juan.

Christine Duffey, president of Carnival Cruise Lines, said in a statement that Carnival Sunshine will offer “an extraordinary array of guest features and facilities,” including upgraded dining and entertainment that was part of Carnival’s Fun Ship 2.0 modernization program initiated in 2011.

Even with the additional sailings, Newsome said the port will maintain its level of fewer than 100 cruise ship departures per year.

To date, cruise ship passenger counts are down 5 percent from the previous year — to 121,270 people — due to a pair of weather-related cancellations.

The SPA has recorded $123 million in revenue this fiscal year, up nearly 21 percent from the same period a year ago. Earnings have tripled to nearly $20 million during the same time period.

Newsome said the port is entering one of its strongest stretches historically — the period of March through May — and he expects continued growth in cargo as the fiscal year winds down June 30.

The SPA’s noncontainerized business also saw increases in February. The Port of Georgetown handled 15,520 tons last month and is 5 percent ahead of its plan for the fiscal year. In Charleston, the SPA is on course to meet its break-bulk tonnage goal with 58,685 tons handled in February.

In other action during Monday’s meeting:

The board approved a contract for routine maintenance dredging at the North Charleston Terminal, which typically occurs every 12 to 15 months to preserve a 50-foot depth for large containerships.

The board approved a design modification to the two super-post-Panamax cranes on order for the Wando Welch Terminal.

Click to read article
Reach David Wren at 937-5550 or on Twitter at @David_Wren_

More cruises, more questions

Less than a month before the updated Tourism Management Plan gets its first official airing, the S.C. State Ports Authority is changing the tourism equation in Charleston.

The SPA is allowing Carnival Cruise Lines to increase its presence in Charleston. The cruise ship Sunshine will start five cruises here in 2016.

Those are in addition to cruises of the Fantasy, which is home ported in Charleston.

Crowding and traffic on the peninsula are two primary considerations of the Tourism Management Plan update. Too bad port officials didn’t wait for the report before considering the Sunshine deal.

The tourism report will be heard at a special Charleston Planning Commission meeting on April 6, and then likely be sent to City Council for consideration on May 12.

Some recommendations that might be included involve a remote parking facility, shore power and a passenger head tax by the city. All could have an impact on Carnival’s contracts with the SPA.

Already the SPA has said no cruise ships with more than 3,500 passengers will come to Charleston. The Fantasy’s capacity is 2,056. The Sunshine’s is about 3,002.

What might come next? The passenger terminal that the SPA wants to build would accommodate even larger ships.

The process of updating the city’s Tourism Management Plan was encouraging in the way people of diverse interests cooperated to produce a mutually acceptable set of recommendations that would benefit the city.

The SPA could have displayed that same sense of cooperation by considering the updated plan before inking deals.

See article here

A New Tide of Tourism

Ah, the Tourism Management Plan.  Well, that got slightly derailed when Historic Charleston Foundation decided it could, in spite of the 2014 moratorium, add candlelight tours in February.(1)  Now the plan is beginning to leave the tracks…before it’s released.

Carnival has announced that a second cruise ship will make five visits to Charleston next year.  That’s in addition to calls by the Fantasy, Carnival’s ship that’s already home-ported here.  According to the Post and Courier, “the Carnival Sunshine is a larger ship than the Fantasy, carrying about 1,000 more passengers and crew.”(2)   According to Carnival’s website, The Sunshine “has been doused with an extra dose of fun” to accompany her 3000 passengers and 1040 crew.(3)   One wonders if this extra dose of fun was brought to the attention of the Tourism Management Committee?

There can’t be a trend here, because according to State Ports Authority’s CEO Jim Newsome, the port will maintain its level of fewer than 104 cruise ship departures per year.  Remember that’s one of the voluntary limits that the SC Ports Authority (SPA) agreed to.  Mayor Joseph Riley said recently that there was a signed agreement with the SPA limiting cruise ship tourism.  Except that we don’t know of one.  Perhaps, Mr. Mayor, you could forward that signed agreement to us, and we’ll publish it with our next blog?  But “no worries,” as the kids would say.  Because there was that much-touted City Council resolution  passed in response to cruise ship concerns.  Except that that resolution doesn’t limit anything.  It only requires the SPA to notify the City a year in advance if those voluntary limits of 104 cruise ship visits and a maximum of 3500 passengers per ship would be exceeded.  What a happy coincidence, it turns out, that cruise ship schedules are created a year in advance.  Notification should be no problem; the problem will arise when that notification occurs.

The Post and Courier editorial board is on top of this problem.  Yesterday’s editorial, “More Cruises, More Questions,” asks the penultimate question.  “What might come next? The passenger terminal that the SPA wants to build would accommodate even larger ships.”(4)  Yes, it would. Union Pier is over 1800 feet long—enough to accommodate both the Fantasy and the Sunshine at the same time—although we’ve been promised that two cruise ships would never be in port at the same time.  However, Union Pier also can accommodate the largest ship now afloat.  No worries…

Except that the Panama Canal is being widened and, in anticipation, giant Post-Panamax cargo ships are already entering our port.  Add in that the Chinese middle class, the ideal target for cruise travel, is growing rapidly.  So bigger, wider cruise ships are sure to follow.  And that’s still not the worst problem.  That problem is President Obama’s unilateral gift to the ruthless, despotic Castro brothers—opening American tourism to siphon American dollars to prop up their dictatorship.  If Carnival Cruise Lines wanted a big gift, they got it.   Ironically, one of the Sunshine’s bars is “the already classic Havana Bar.”   So this is the ultimate question—what city do you think will be hosting some of those ships headed for Cuba?   Carnival’s ready, Charleston isn’t.  We’ll soon be “doused with an extra dose of fun.”

And what about those voluntary, unenforceable cruise ship limits?

There’s only one solution.  It’s not just shore power; shore power isn’t going to slow the rising tide of cruise ship tourism.  It’s not a head tax, although money to offset the cost for police, fire and rescue equipment required for every ship visit could really help.  The only permanent solution is to move the proposed cruise terminal away from the Historic Districts and downtown, farther north to the Columbus Street Terminal closer to major highways, so that passengers who are destined for the Bahamas or Cuba don’t overrun and kill what remains of Charleston’s charm and quality of life.   If they want to see and appreciate Charleston’s history and culture, they’re welcome.  But for those cruisers who just want an ice cream and a t-shirt, they certainly don’t need to drive through town and park on valuable waterfront land to get them. Then Union Pier could be sold at a much greater profit to the SPA and prudently developed to provide a breathtaking enhancement to downtown Charleston.

We’re certain the recommendation to move the cruise terminal away from downtown will be a key component of that Tourism Management Plan.

—Jay Williams, Jr
#   #    #

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.

Footnotes/links:

1)  Historic Charleston website – candlelight tours
https://www.historiccharleston.org/Museums.aspx

2)  More container volume, new cruise ship for Port of Charleston – Post and Courier
http://www.postandcourier.com/article/20150316/PC05/150319463

3)  Carnival Sunshine – Carnival website
http://www.carnival.com/cruise-ships/carnival-sunshine.aspx

4)  “More cruises, more questions”  – Post and Courier editorial
http://www.postandcourier.com/article/20150319/PC1002/150319286/1506/more-cruises-more-questions

Once again, Charleston should learn from Venice….

STARS ALIGNED AGAINST BIG SHIPSLike Charleston, Venice has mixed feelings about the cruise industry. Environmentalists and preservationists — and movie stars — fear large ships will do extensive damage to the fragile city. So in November the city took a stand by banning large cruise ships (more than 96,000 gross tons) from sailing through the historic city within 1,000 feet of historic St. Mark’s Square.

But people in the tourism industry, who estimated the ban would reduce the number of tourists in Venice by 30,000, fought back. And this month, a regional court of appeals overturned the ban.

In doing so, it likely displeased the glitterati who petitioned to restrict cruise ships that have “mortally threatened” the city known as the Queen of the Adriatic. Michael Douglas, Cate Blanchett, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Rob Lowe, Michael Caine, Diane Lane, Edward Norton, Susan Sarandon, Isabella Rossellini and Julie Christie are among the endorsees.

 UNESCO officials also expressed distress over the court’s action. Venice is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The ban applied, albeit briefly, to ships that carry roughly 2,260 passengers or more. (The Fantasy, which is home-ported in Charleston, accommodates 2,052 passengers.)

But Venice will have a respite of sorts anyway from the ships some refer to as “skyscrapers of the sea.” The Cruise Lines International Association, which represents 53 major cruise lines, said 2015 itineraries have already been finalized — without stops in Venice.

Further, CLIA has decided not to make longer-range itinerary plans until a decision is made about constructing an alternate route to the passenger terminal — a route that would not threaten the historic city.

Last year, Venice capped the number of cruise ships visiting at 708. (The S.C. State Ports Authority has pledged to limit the number of cruise ships in Charleston to 104 a year.)

Venice hasn’t figured it all out yet, but it’s worth noting that officials there have acknowledged cruise ships’ potential damage and are trying to implement enforceable restrictions.

Hmm. Seems like a good idea for any port to work out with its host city.

The times are NOT a changing…

Cruise Ships Are Unregulated Trouble on the High Seas

Elizabeth Becker

Elizabeth Becker, a former New York Times correspondent, is the author of “Overbooked: The Exploding Business of Travel and Tourism.”

Congress has exempted these behemoths from labor laws and environmental regulations. Passengers need to look for responsible ones.

December 29, 2014

Cruise ships have become the symbol of all that’s gone haywire in the tourism industry.

The largest of these floating hotels are the size of horizontal skyscrapers and carry as many as 6,000 passengers. They cross the seas polluting the water and air and overwhelming their ports of call. Their accidents make headlines: from the deadly capsizing of a ship off the coast of Italy to a child drowning because no lifeguard was on duty.

Every day the average cruise ship dumps 21,000 gallons of human waste, one ton of solid waste garbage, 170,000 gallons of wastewater and 8,500 plastic bottles in the ocean. That’s according to the Environmental Protection Agency – cruise ships are under no regulatory obligation to monitor or report what they release.

This lack of modern regulations is the core problem and the chief reason why cruises are so popular. Less regulation translates into cheaper tickets($389 for seven days in the Bahamas!) Cruises make their big profits once passengers are onboard from alcohol sales, gambling and those on-shore excursions. Plus cruises are easy – one bed, no decisions.

Congress has allowed these behemoths to operate like a Vegas resort without any of the regulations that apply in the United States. Thanks to Congress, cruises are exempt from: labor laws (waiters are paid $50 a month plus tips and no benefits); most sewage and water regulations under the Clean Water Act; and standards of the Clean Air Act in international waters.

Carnival and Royal Caribbean are headquartered in Miami and, with their subsidiaries, represent nearly two-thirds of the global cruise business. Yet they largely operate outside of most American regulatory laws – and pay almost no corporate taxes. They do this by flagging and registering their ships in other nations (Liberia, Panama and the Bahamas) and winning the right from Congress to be treated in most instances like a commercial vessel and not a hotel.

Since Congress hasn’t budged on these issues – cruise lines are generous donors – local and regional authorities have stepped into the breach.

Citizens of cities as different as Venice, Italy, and Charleston, S.C., are trying to block the biggest ships from docking. Vancouver banned cruise ship air pollution during the Olympic Winter Games. Belize has restricted cruise passengers to one beach area – a practice known in the industry as a sacrifice zone – to protect other ares from being trashed.

The E.P.A. has endorsed new California laws forbidding cruise ships from discharging any waste along its coast. Antarctica banned all large cruise ships because its fragile environment can’t afford a single accident.

Consumers can do their part by finding a cruise that respects the environment from online resources like “The Cruise Report Card” by Friends of the Earth, and “Eco-Friendly Cruises” by Nerd Wallet.

2014 Cruise Report Card

For those of you who have not seen it, each year the Friends of the Earth (FOE) publishes the cruise ship report card. This annual document awards grades to cruise lines and individual ships, and can be found here:
http://www.foe.org/cruise-report-card

2014’s data collection has an interesting twist. According to news reports (http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2014/12/04/3599528/cruise-lines-sewage-2014/), this year “all 16 cruise lines apparently refused to respond to FOE’s request for information on their pollution reduction efforts — forcing the group to rely on federal data. This also inspired FOE to add a fourth transparency metric to the report card, for which all 16 cruise lines received an ‘F.'” As you are all well aware, federal data is limited and the laws are weak.

Pertaining specifically to Charleston, Carnival Cruise Lines earned an overall grade of D for 2014, and the Carnival Fantasy ship earned the following:

  • Sewage treatment: F
  • Air pollution reduction: F
  • Water quality compliance: N/A
  • Overall: F

The Fantasy’s grades mean that the ship does not have advanced sewage and wastewater treatment, does not use shore power or low-sulfur fuels continuously at levels lower than required by law, does not sail to Alaska and therefore water pollution standards are not measured publicly. Also of note: at least three ships scheduled for Charleston port-of-calls in 2015 are shore power capable and could hook up and reduce most of their harmful emissions if our cruise terminal had shore power technology.

Charleston Currents