Jay’s Blog

Citizens’ groups act to defend our legal rights

Citizens’ groups act to defend our legal rights

Could anything impact Charleston’s future more than the proposed new 100,000 sq. ft. cruise terminal at Union Pier?

Yes. There’s the possibility that citizens’ rights to protest any public controversy could be diminished in the legal process.  There may be a trend in the South Carolina courts to do just that.

The appeal was scheduled to be heard on Election Day, but at the last minute, for the seventh time, the the SC Court of Appeals postponed oral arguments in an appeal arising from DHEC’s issuance of permits to the State Ports Authority (SPA) for a new cruise terminal.  The case is now likely to be heard early next year.  That appeal involves the denial of legal standing of several groups that had challenged the issuance of those permits and the imposition of sanctions on those groups by Administrative Law Judge Ralph King Anderson III.

The judge ruled that all these citizens’ groups, the Coastal Conservation League, The Preservation Society of Charleston, Historic Charleston Foundation, The Charlestowne Neighborhood Association, Historic Ansonborough Neighborhood Association, The Charleston Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, and The Charleston Communities for Cruise Control had no right to challenge DHEC’s approval of those permits.  DHEC is the SC Department of Health & Environmental Control.

You’re not to be blamed if you’ve lost track of the process, it’s been a long slough.

Five pilings, five years of history

The SPA has relentlessly pursued the construction of a new cruise terminal for five years declaring that the existing terminal is inadequate and doesn’t meet Homeland Security requirements.  But to build anything on the harbor, it needs both state and federal permits.

Back then, the SPA applied for and received a federal permit hoping for quick approval.  But three years ago, after opponents filed a suit to oppose it, United States District Court Judge Richard Gergel tossed the SPA’s federal permit to build the proposed $35 million terminal at Union Pier and blasted the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for failing to adequately review the project’s effects as mandated by Congress. “I think you did an end run,” he told the Army Corps lawyers. “You gave this permit the bum’s rush.”

The Corps had determined that installing five clusters of pilings beneath the building would have little impact, but that didn’t satisfy Judge Gergel.  “You have an obligation to look at the entire project,” Gergel told their attorneys. “You haven’t done what the law requires you to do by reducing a 108,000 square-foot project to 41-square feet of pilings.”   The federal judge also referenced evidence contained in a 1,200-page filing that the new terminal is being designed for larger ships than now call here, and that the new terminal could more than triple the number of cruise passengers visiting the city.

Any potential surge of cruise passenger traffic strikes fear in the hearts of many downtown residents.  Those fears are hardly placated by SPA CEO Jim Newsome’s assertions that cruise ships are “maritime commerce,” and that cruise passengers aren’t tourists that can be regulated by the City.

The SPA has put “voluntary limits” on the size, number and frequency of visits for cruise ships.  That limit is 104 ships a year with a 3,500-passenger maximum.  But the SPA can unilaterally exceed these “voluntary limits” simply by issuing a notice to the City of Charleston one year in advance.

Following Judge Gergel’s rebuke, the Army Corps has held citizen input sessions and conducted studies of the terminal area.  Next week, it will bring the parties together to discuss the proposed Area of Potential Effect (APE), the geographic area that would be impacted by the new cruise terminal.  As you might imagine, determining those APE boundaries has been a contentious process.

It will be critical SC Appeals Court decision

The State has a parallel role, and DHEC has issued the necessary permits for a new terminal.  Those permits also were challenged in the Administrative Law Court, but Judge Anderson ruled that those groups did not have standing.  That ruling brings us to that appeal at the SC Court of Appeals in Columbia.

“The Administrative Law Court said you don’t have the right to bring this lawsuit,” Southern Environmental Law Center attorney Blan Holman explained, “but the law says ‘any affected person’ can challenge bureaucratic action, and these people living next to a cruise terminal are injured,” as shown in affidavits, by noise, soot, pollution, traffic, congestion, and other effects.  The judge made other errors, at least according to the Appellants, including “refusing to expand discovery.”

Holman, representing two of the groups appealing the ruling, added, “You can love or hate cruise ships, that doesn’t mater.  You should agree that these people who are affected have the right to challenge unlawful government action.” He said, “The ruling applied the wrong legal test, ignored evidence, and shouldn’t have even reached the conclusion it did as the federal courts already determined that we had standing.”

Citizens’ rights are on trial

This appeal is not merely about objecting to impacts from the cruise operations in Charleston, although that’s what brought us here. The core issue is bigger–it’s about citizen’s rights.  Attorney Holman argues that, “It’s about families and property owners across the state having the right to challenge injurious government action.

“Some in South Carolina want to take those rights away,” Holman submits, “and they are pursuing that agenda aggressively in the Legislature and the courts.  We are fighting to defend and restore a right established with the founding of the nation and South Carolina — the right to petition against the government. Upholding that right doesn’t mean we will necessarily win on the merits of the permit challenge itself.  But it ensures the merits of that challenge see the light of day. Justice demands no less.”

When the appeal is rescheduled, “It would be good for the people to see the Court in action.  The arguments aren’t long, and it’s a pretty formalized process,” Holman says. “Our side and the SPA will each have their say, interspersed by the judges’ questions.  It should only take about 45 minutes.  But the Court’s answer to the questions raised in this case will carry statewide importance in terms of citizens’ rights.”

Kristopher King, Executive Director of the Preservation Society, underscored the importance of the SC Appeals Court date, “We’ll be pleased to finally have our day in court. We maintain that the community [organizations] has standing in this issue. The outcome could result in a significant negative impact to the historic district and its residents, and this is exactly what these processes are meant to prevent. We certainly hope they do in this case.”

Dana Beach, Executive Director of the Coastal Conservation League, added this suggestion: “There is a growing consensus that the terminal is not appropriate or acceptable in this historic part of the city.  On top of the explosion of hotel rooms downtown, the congestion and visual impacts are simply too great. Charleston’s new mayor, John Tecklenberg, campaigned on reconsidering and revising the project.  Now it’s time for the SPA to do its part to sustain the economy and the quality of life of Charleston by revisiting this harmful proposal.”

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Jay Williams Jr.

Cruise terminal controversy may have only one solution

The Advocate

By Jay Williams, Jr.

There’s good reason for the cruise terminal controversy. Union Pier may be the worst place to put it.

There must be a balance between residents’ quality of life and the cruise ship tourism that Jonathon B. Tourtellot, a National Geographic Fellow, once called “the strip mine of tourism.”

On April 12, more than 125 citizens attended an Army Corps of Engineers public hearing as part of a process to decide if the South Carolina State Ports Authority (SPA) should be given a permit to build a new terminal at Union Pier. (See many comments on our letters to the editor section on pages 14 and 15.) Col. Matthew Luzzatto, commander of the Army Corps’ Charleston office, stood as he listened to two hours of public comments. Most speakers highlighted the negative impacts from cruise ships and respectfully offered options to reduce them. Before making its decision to approve the permit, approve it with special conditions or deny it, the Corps will review all comments submitted by May 12, 2016.

The Corps previously approved a “maintenance” permit with no public comment, but citizens appealed. In 2013, U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel tossed that permit and chastised the Corps’ review process saying, “The Army Corps of Engineers, unreasonably and unlawfully, restricted its ‘scope of analysis’ to an insignificant fraction of the project that lay within the agency’s jurisdiction.”

Real growth, real issues

The SPA submitted revealing information to the court. Quoting from the ruling, “The Ports Authority has acknowledged that a cruise ship terminal can ‘present special challenges’ in ‘managing automobile and pedestrian traffic,’ ‘protecting the environment,’ ‘and preserving Charleston’s unique character’ and ‘there are still lingering questions about how well the cruise ship business will fit into the context of this diverse, world class city.’” “Evidence provided by the Ports Authority supports the [opponents] claim … that the number of cruise ships and passengers has increased in recent years and the proposed new and larger passenger terminal would likely significantly increase the number and size of cruise ships visiting Charleston and the volume of cruise passengers in the historic Charleston waterfront.”

From 2000 to 2013, the number of Charleston’s cruise ship passengers increased by 547 percent. So with a new 100,000 sq.-ft. terminal featuring an 1800’ pier, the home-ported 2,056-passenger Carnival Ecstasy could be replaced with a 3,450-passenger ship, creating new impacts even under current limits. In that 2013 ruling, the Court, citing SPA data, concluded that simply to service this increased volume of passengers on an average cruise day, “up to 20 tractor trailers, 16 small trucks, 32 busses, 90 taxis and 1600-passenger vehicles would need access to the very confined” terminal area that “lies immediately adjacent to the Charleston Historic District and the Ansonborough neighborhood.”

What about even more ships, traffic and impacts? In January, Cruise Industry News Quarterly wrote, “While Carnival remains the port’s number one customer, there is the potential for another home-ported line, as the city recently completed doubling the size of its airport.” And the new Union Pier cruise terminal would be much larger, able to berth two ships simultaneously.

Last May at Charleston City Council, Jim Newsome, the SPA’s CEO, asserted that Charleston’s cruise business “is not a growth industry,” noting that in 2010, “we had 67 cruise ships.” He didn’t say that Charleston would host 93 port calls in 2015. This year, Charleston will host 100 ships. That sure looks like growth.

That ordinance doesn’t limit anything

We’re now just a few ships short of the SPA’s own voluntary limit of 104 ships per year. No worries, right, because of that much-heralded City Council ordinance passed to address to cruise concerns. But that ordinance didn’t limit anything. It only requires the SPA to notify the city one year in advance when plans to exceed the voluntary limits of 104 cruise ship visits or the 3,500-passenger maximum. So if the promise isn’t kept, there are no consequences.

On the night the ordinance passed, the SPA’s public relations director, Byron Miller, sent an email confirming the ordinance’s irrelevancy: “As you’ll recall, this ordinance does not limit or impact in any way the cruise business in Charleston.”

At last May’s City Council meeting, SPA CEO Jim Newsome, mostly reaffirmed this earlier quotation: “In my view, cruising is a maritime commerce business, not a tourism business,” he said. “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.” That night he said, “Most of the cruise passengers … board the Carnival Fantasy to become tourists, but in Nassau and Freeport.”

Carnival cruisers are not coming to Charleston; they’re going through Charleston. So much for those touted economic benefits.

This time, it’s a different process

This time, the Corps must abide by the congressionally mandated Section 106 process to assess all environmental and historic impacts.

 

So it was confusing to hear Army Corps’ project manager Nat I. Ball’s opening at the hearing when he said that as a terminal was already in Charleston, “We’re focused on the changes that would occur … From what occurs at Union Pier today, we’re looking at that increment of change.”

That sparked a response from Blan Holman, managing attorney at the Charleston office of the Southern Environmental Law Center: “The Corps needs to consider this for what it is — a brand new and much larger cruise terminal in the heart of Charleston’s historic downtown. Calling a $35-million-dollar terminal ‘maintenance’ or treating this project as a nip and tuck takes us back to 2013 when we should be moving forward.”

Besides ship limits and alternate terminal locations, other issues beg for solutions, but the SPA hasn’t offered a single concession on any of them:

Shore power. The Coastal Conservation League’s Katie Zimmerman says that “nitrogen oxides and carbon oxides are not addressed by scrubbers” but that shore power virtually eliminates them, noting that the SPA’s “air quality monitor measures regional impacts, not localized hot spots.” “Additionally,” she said, “tests of scrubbers have shown possible increases in high concentrations of a number of harmful compounds in the water around the ships.

Though shore power will cost $4-5 million, that’s minor compared to the terminal’s $35 million price tag and the federal government has paid much of this cost at other ports.

Parking and traffic. Unbelievably, the SPA is planning for nine acres of surface parking at Union Pier on perhaps the most valuable undeveloped waterfront property in America. And even with a rail line available, the SPA has rebuffed remote parking solutions.

The Corps’ October 21-22 traffic study drew skepticism as it was done so soon after major flooding dampened tourism. The study showed increased cruise day traffic, but questions of validity suggest that it should be repeated this month.

Asymmetrical impacts. Charleston gets no revenue from cruise ships. No berthing fees, no head taxes and no property taxes — every dime goes to the SPA. Yet the city and its citizens bear all the heavy impacts of managing tourists driving in and spewing out from the terminal.

 

The concerns above help explain why some cities, after being badly damaged by cruise ship tourism like Venice and Hamilton, Bermuda, are moving cruise terminals away from the historic districts and city centers. Although Key West is now trying to limit cruise operations, it’s already too late to preserve what was there.

The vast majority of cruise critics are not seeking to end all cruises; however, noise, soot, traffic, water quality and ship and passenger scale must be regulated as any tourist business. Many citizens are saddened by the visual pollution of colossal modern cruise ships towering over iconic church steeples, shattering the ambiance and patina of this historic city; but, the noise, smells, traffic and pollution make them angry.

The SPA owns the Veterans and Columbus Street terminals, closer to highways and with more space. Given that the SPA considers a cruise terminal to be like an airport and refuses any tourism regulation or compromise on any issue, denying the permit at Union Pier may be only sensible solution.

 

Voice your opinion: Written comments on the proposed Union Pier cruise terminal must be received by May 12, 2016:

 

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Regulatory Division

Attn: Nat Ball

69-A Hagood Ave.

Charleston, S.C. 29403

CHS | Vote Tuesday… Charleston’s future is at stake

It’s impossible to overstate the importance of Charleston’s mayoral election.  The City is at a crossroads.   Traffic congestion has worsened; May is now gridlock.   Hundreds of new hotel rooms have just been built, and hundreds more have been permitted or are in the queue, yet no one has studied their impact.  A proposed new cruise terminal looms, one that the head of the State Ports Authority admits would be “like an airport,” yet the current mayor has no interest in moving it from the Historic District or mitigating any of the impacts.  Most importantly, no one but this blog will report on how lifting the embargo against Cuba, once formalized, will increase cruise passenger traffic in and out of Charleston’s harbor.  
 
Major developments including recent (and potentially proposed) Sergeant Jasper, the West Edge, the new Children’s Hospital and others will lock up traffic on Lockwood Boulevard and make the commute to West Ashley almost impossible.  The only proposed solution…bike lanes…   The flooding, the aging infrastructure, the crumbling Battery wall…
What we do not need is another mayor who will continue to look the other way.  We need a mayor who will hit the pause button on growth and development-at-any-cost and pull out one of the many thoughtful plans and begin to work with the community on real solutions.
 
The Charleston Mercury believes “one candidate stands out from the group; he is civic leader and businessman John Tecklenburg. Mr. Tecklenburg crossed the Rubicon of Charleston politics when he decided to oppose the Beach Company’s plans to redevelop the Sergeant Jasper Apartments. He stood up to a longstanding ally and took a path of principle that endeared his candidacy to many Charlestonians. This is not the place to re-launch that tug of war, but it boiled down to a candidate showing clearly that he has ears to hear his constituents.”(1)
 
Endorsing John Tecklenburg, The Post and Courier admits that the next mayor “will have his hands full,” but says “Mr. Tecklenburg recognizes the challenges, and has the ability, experience and temperament to meet them effectively. He is a retired business executive, and he served for eight years as Mayor Joe Riley’s director of economic development. The affable Mr. Tecklenburg will bring a thoughtful approach to a difficult job.”  
 
What will he do?  Tecklenburg “calls for a moratorium on new hotel construction until restrictions can be put into place in consultation with residents, historic preservation groups and neighborhood associations. He would similarly invoke a ‘pause’ in approving special events that increasingly cause traffic, parking problems and noise in city neighborhoods,” editorialized the P&C, and quoted Tecklenburg saying that “we need to redirect our focus on the things that affect our livability.”  “Those things,” writes the P&C, “include housing affordability, traffic management and improved transportation. He would encourage city incentives for affordable housing, and would urge the Charleston Housing Authority to provide additional units for low-income people through better utilization of the agency’s land holdings.”(2)  And Tecklenburg would do a much-needed performance audit on all city departments to ensure we’re getting our money’s worth (long overdue, by the way).  
 
John Tecklenburg promises to work with other jurisdictions to create regional solutions for planning, transportation, and mass transit.
 
Only one candidate has run a positive campaign, and only one candidate has offered a comprehensive plan for making Charleston livable in the future, Charleston native John Tecklenburg.  We join The Mercury, The Post and Courier, Charleston Currents (3), Ginny Deerin, Henry Fishburne, Sen. Robert Ford and many others endorsing JOHN TECKLENBURG for Mayor.  Please be sure to VOTE.
Jay
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1) Charleston Mercury endorsement:
 
2) Post and Courier’s endorsement:
 
3) Charleston Currents endorsement:

CHS | That proposed Cruise Terminal – Where are we now?

Two years ago, United States District Court Judge Richard Gergel handed the cruise terminal opponents their first victory, tossing the SPA’s federal permit to build a proposed $35 million terminal at Union Pier and blasting the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for failing to adequately review the project’s effects on the area saying, “I think you did an end run. You gave this permit a bum’s rush.”

This time around, the Corps promises a thorough job.

The battle lines are being drawn. At the first “consultation process” hearing on October 22, the APE, or “Area of Potential Effects,” became the focus. Participants responded to a series of questions about the impacts on Charleston’s buildings on the National Historic Register and its National Historic Landmark status.

The SPA argued that the APE must be tightly drawn around the terminal property. “Not so fast,” opponents say. Cars, buses and taxis must travel through the Historic District creating immense traffic just to transport passengers to the terminal; the smog, soot and noise drifts well beyond the terminal compromising homes and human health; and cruise passengers swarm like ants over the City causing congestion and impacts well beyond the terminal area.

Yet SPA CEO Jim Newsome reiterated his claim that cruise ships are part of Charleston’s history. He said that cruise ships are “maritime commerce,” meaning that passengers aren’t tourists and can’t be regulated. If they visit the Historic District, he asserted, that’s just incidental. The SPA’s contracted study claims that only four to six percent of tourism comes from cruise passengers.

Meanwhile, Mayor Joseph Riley professed that cruise ships are good for Charleston, that redevelopment of the Southern portion of Union Pier would be a boon to the City.

Opponents of these assertions were ready.

Historic Charleston Foundation’s Christopher Cody showed historic photos of ships in the harbor and said “it’s improbable that historically more than a few hundred passengers per day would have used Charleston’s port.” Thousands of cruise passengers, “potentially over 7,000 at a time, represent a new use of the harbor and a concentrated intrusion that’s inappropriate for our historic district’s scale and layout. Just because cruise ships are boats doesn’t automatically make them related to our traditions of maritime commerce.”

“We believe the impacts cannot be limited to the fence line of the Port property,” said Kristopher King, Executive Director of The Preservation Society, because the court directed the Corps to “consider both the direct and indirect effects on historic properties within and outside the permit area.” King also cited the SPA’s own Brockington Associates study that admits that “cruise passengers will represent 25-40 percent of vehicular traffic in the Historic District” when those ships are in town.

Interviewed later, King added, “The Corps must consider direct and indirect impacts on the use and character of our National Landmark District consisting mainly of single family dwellings which the SPA’s historic assessment admits may be impacted.”

Other meetings will be scheduled, and we will update you.

 

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.

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)

20150919_170029

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…same ship here and below.
20150919_185044

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

20150919_185124

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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Footnotes

1)  Charleston, State Ports Authority scuttle talk of alternative Cruise Terminal Site, Post and Courier
http://www.postandcourier.com/article/20150512/PC16/150519737/1177/charleston-state-ports-authority-scuttles-talk-of-alternate-terminal-to-union-pier-as-council-adopts-tourism-plan

2)  Planning Commission wants City to find an alternative site for cruise terminal – Post and Courier
http://www.postandcourier.com/article/20150406/PC16/150409516&fb_comment_id=995080227211305_995535870499074

3)  Community:  All Aboard  –  Charleston Magazine
http://charlestonmag.com/features/all_aboard

INFORMATION ON HOW TO WRITE YOUR LETTER:

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.

http://www.charlestoncruisecontrol.org

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:

http://action.coastalconservationleague.org/page/speakout/new-cruise-terminal

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

It’s Raining in Charleston

It’s Raining in Charleston

So Brian Hicks, a Post and Courier columnist, took this opportunity to rain down on the Board of Zoning Appeals’ decision to deny a condo conversion for 1 Meeting Street.  We didn’t see him at the ZBA-Z meeting to have heard the hour-long discussion about this iconic home; was he there?  And he didn’t mention that the Preservation Society, the Charlestowne Neighborhood Association as well as Historic Charleston Foundation all opposed converting 1 Meeting Street into three condominiums, or that all the neighbors save one, a real estate agent, were also against chopping 1 Meeting into condos.  He’s still entitled to his own opinion, though.(1)

But to paraphrase the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, he’s not entitled to his own facts.  The fact is that 1 Meeting Street, in need of $2-3 million in structural repairs and remodeling to make it livable, was rolled out for sale three years ago at an unbelievable $8 million price; that initial price, in a bad economy, tainted any appetite for buyers.  A $4.4 million price, even now, is more realistic.  Yet the Hawks want $5.4 for it.

Let’s take two other Brian Hick’s “facts.”  The house, when you delete the piazzas (that the applicant’s architect actually included in his calculation of the total square feet of the property during the BAR meeting), the “unuseable” attic, and the “dungeon-like” basement section with the boiler and mechanical equipment–could any of the basement actually be used for “condo” living space given the current flood zone restrictions?–1 Meeting Street is closer to 8,000 not 12,000 sq. feet.  A new single-family home was just built a block away that’s larger than that.  And if columnist Hicks thinks “29401 is going to have to be the richest zip code in the country,” he needs to get out more…to say, Sullivan’s Island.  Or Kiawah.  Or many other far more prosperous cities with far more expensive houses.(2)

More troubling is Hick’s characterization of these downtown neighbors: “All that talk of historical integrity went out the window when these folks said they were fine with two condos.  But make it three and, well, there goes ye olde neighborhood.”  Because, you see, 1 Meeting Street’s owners have held a city permit for a basement apartment since 1990, so they already have permission for two units, and “these folks” knew that.  But “these folks” also knew that turning this stately home into three condos was a different issue entirely, a point that Mr. Hicks missed.

Brian Hicks added, “….you just can’t trust those shifty bottom-feeders who buy $2 million condos.”  So does he want to see historic Charleston chopped into a maze of $2 million condos?

Mr. Hicks writes, “Charleston isn’t Colonial Williamsburg, it’s a working, living city,” yet he seems clueless about what makes Charleston a “working, living city.”  A living, working city is about diversity, and diversity isn’t just about hard-working middle class families, singles, students, people of color, retirees, subsidized housing, bartenders and waiters, a “working, living city” also must include the wealthy people who can afford, and afford to maintain, these expensive single-family homes, who are committed to the city’s preserved history, and who generously support the charities, museums, arts, and events that propel downtown life.  These are the people who put their homes on tour that fund the historic and preservation societies that attract the most valuable tourists who drive our city’s economy and provide jobs for thousands.  And these are the people that increasingly sacrifice their quality of life to accommodate the expanding hordes of these tourists who endlessly and noisily parade down their streets and, and all too often, uninvited, wade into their gardens and private spaces.

Yet, contrary to his rhetoric, Mr. Hicks’ advances ideas that are likely to choke the life out of our “working, living city,” and turn it into a Colonial Williamsburg theme park.  The large historic single-family homes he’d chop into “$2 million condos” would more than limit the upper tier of Charleston’s economic and social diversity, a key cohort that has sustained this city since before the Revolution; it would poison the life of the neighborhood.  At that meeting, one neighbor said, “Condominiums are anonymous. It loses its personality in the neighborhood.”(3)  She might have added that many who live in condos have a home or homes in other cities and use their condos as glorified hotel rooms. And there’s evidence that most condo owners don’t engage with either the neighbors or the neighborhood, and they don’t contribute to Charleston socially or civically–because their real lives are elsewhere.

So what does Mr. Hicks think will happen to “these folks” who turned out in mass at that Zoning Board meeting to defend their “working, living” neighborhood and their neighbors?  Does he think “these folks” will stay in their old neighborhood if it’s overrun by cut up mansions used only by occasionally-in-residence, anonymous condo owners?

It takes more than tourists and $2 million condos to make a city.  And there are certainly easier, less congested, and less expensive places for real residents to live other than downtown Charleston if that’s all that remains there.

The city is interesting and vital because of the interesting and vital Charlestonians who live in these great homes.  But given the geometrically expanding tourism and traffic, hotels, tour busses, carriages and pedicabs, bars, noise, cruise ships, and taxes, the “living” part and the “Charleston” part of our historic city may be coming to an end.  That point Mr. Hicks misses entirely.

#  #   #

–Jay Williams, Jr.
26 November 14

Footnotes and links

1)  A City or a Museum, 1 Meeting Street controversy…   Brian Hicks – Post and Courier
http://www.postandcourier.com/article/20141123/PC16/141129883/a-city-or-a-museum-1-meeting-street-controversy-poses-serious-question-for-charleston

2)  New York Dominates the 2014 List of Most Expensive Zip Codes – Forbes
http://www.forbes.com/sites/erincarlyle/2014/10/08/new-york-dominates-2014-list-of-americas-most-expensive-zip-codes/

3)  Condos at 1 Meeting Street Defeated by Preservationists – Robert Behre – Post and Courier
http://www.postandcourier.com/article/20141118/PC16/141119307

Managing Tourism and more: Let’s connect the dots.

Inauspicious.  That summarizes the first Charleston Tourism Committee Forum, held April 7th in crowded meeting room at 75 Calhoun.  Instead of a forum, citizens were relegated to asking questions on 3×5 cards.  Then, rather than listen to citizen input, one city official chose to pontificate, giving his opinion as fact, declaring that there should be public restrooms near White Point Gardens “because people down there want them,” and that the cruise terminal won’t be moved up to the Columbus Street Terminal, “because it’s the most important cargo terminal in South Carolina.”

To this observer, the first question read from a submitted card was brilliant:  “Given the overbalance of committee members who are either directly involved with tourism or who profit from it,” what assurance can we have that the real tourism issues downtown and in the historic district will be addressed?   No reason to bore you with the non-answer response.

But there is hope that at TONIGHT’S MEETING at the Charleston Museum, the Tourism Committee will actually let the public speak and that City officials might listen. (1)

Why?   First, there was a follow up Committee meeting on May 29th at the Historic Charleston Foundation.   And prior to that meeting, many residents expressed their dissatisfaction of that first meeting to both committee members and city officials.  Secondly, Steve Gates, chairman of the Charlestowne Neighborhood Assn., prepared a cogent 12-page statement of tourism concerns complete with specific recommendations; it appears to be an excellent blueprint.(2)  Thirdly, the committee members, including good new members who have recently been added, appear to be taking their tasks seriously.   And fourth, then came April-May, 2014–perhaps the two most horrible months in history for living in Charleston, a time when even the most oblivious realized that we’ve stepped beyond the “tourism tipping point.”  As the 5-million tourists-per-year threshold may be breached this year, some finally asked the right question:  What is Charleston’s “tourist carrying capacity”?

Yes, there are those who still don’t see the potential catastrophe of rampant tourism.   Only yesterday in the Post and Courier, a letter-writer was near apoplectic that the newspaper editorial board wanted to “‘lighten the tourism load'” as that would surely cause “a major reduction in tourism dollars, resulting in jobs lost and businesses struggling.”(3)   This should be called “reverse NIMBYism.”   The letter writer was from…North Charleston.

That May 29th meeting may have market a turning point for another reason.  Mayor Joseph Riley announced several tourism initiatives on-the-spot, asserting that these problems were so obvious that there was no need to wait for a final report to take action.  He pledged to put three new tourism enforcement officials on-the-street under the supervision of the Livability Officer.  He pledged to continue the moratorium prohibiting any new special events for the peninsula, he said the city would crack down on short-term rentals, and he would ask the city council to end the sale of liquor at midnight for new establishments.  This blog isn’t often complimentary of the mayor, but these were welcome and needed actions.

Yet there’s a large concern beyond tourism that will negatively impact the value and quality of life in Charleston.  It’s equal to the scourge of the proposed, ill-sited cruise terminal bereft of any meaningful restrictions on growth.  It’s large-scale development.  The recently scotched proposal for a new Sergeant Jasper complex is an ominous case-in-point.  That proposal (as presented to several neighborhood associations this spring) called for three large-scale buildings set on three parcels at the west end of Broad Street between the city tennis courts and Lockwood Blvd, and it included plans for a 70,000 sq. ft. office building on the now-vacant St. Mary’s field.  Then to accommodate thousands of square feet of new apartment units, the developers planned a four-story, 700-car parking facility in addition to retail spaces on both Barre and Broad Streets near the center of this huge complex.(4)  The traffic impact on this already-congested corner could be immense.  Right now–not a week or month later–is the time for the city to toughen the requirements for all new large-scale projects that seemingly get approved without adequate parking (or enforcing existing regulations), without adequate open public space, and without any requirement to conduct a truly comprehensive traffic study that considers all existing and potential traffic impacts, not just whatever traffic is added by a new project.

A new Sergeant Jasper project proposal will likely be revealed at any moment.  Will the city ensure us that, before any approval, the proposal will comport with the small scale architecture and historic ambiance of the surrounding neighborhoods and that the traffic impacts will be significantly reduced from the original?

Tourism grew out of control, in part, because five different commissions are involved in promoting, permitting and policing it.   No one, it seems, was managing the big picture.  While it appears that we’re finally focused on the rapidly growing impacts of tourism, and let’s hope we are, there are other big threats.  Let’s study all of them.  Let’s connect the dots.

# # #

–Jay Williams, Jr.
12 June 14

 

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)  The Tourism Commission meeting will be held tonight, June 12th, 2014, at the Charleston Museum, 360 Meeting Street.  This is an important meeting; please attend!

2)  The CNA board approved tourism recommendations for Charleston.

3)  “Wrong Message,” Letters to the editor, P&C, June 11, 2014
http://www.postandcourier.com/article/20140611/PC1002/140619915/1025/letters-to-the-editor-for-wednesday-june-11

4)  There is a concise write-up of the Beach Company’s original Sergeant Jasper presentation in the current issue of Preservation Progress, The Preservation Society of Charleston’s magazine.  It is available at the Preservation Society book store at 147 King Street.

CHS | A hollow victory at City Council?

Those favoring regulating toxic cruise ship pollution won a hollow victory Tuesday night.   Facing an overflow crowd of concerned citizens, the Charleston City Council passed resolution that “the city supports the actions of the state General Assembly in assuring funding is available for shore power at the new terminal when needed.”(1) [emphasis supplied]   In spite of the 10-2 vote, the fragility of the City Council’s commitment came with the final two words, “when needed,” words that were added in the last moments to obtain majority support.  And without the strong endorsements of Councilmen William Dudley Gregorie and Mike Seekings, even this weakened resolution wouldn’t have gone anywhere.(2,3)

Eliminating the soot, smoke and sulphur dioxide wafting over Charleston caused by cruise ships idling in port is such an obviously good idea, you’d think everyone would be for it.  But they’re not.  According to the Post and Courier, “[Mayor Joe] Riley has said that the city should allow SPA (SC Ports Authority) time to figure out if shoreside power will be needed at the new cruise terminal.”  Really, Mr. Mayor?  They’ve already wasted years; how much time do they need?  And even with the squishy language of the resolution, two Council members, Rodney Williams and Dean C. Riegel, still voted against it.  Reigel said that the SPA’s presentation showed that a resolution would not be necessary since it could limit the agency’s efforts to control emissions.  Councilman Riegal said, “I see no need for a resolution, I think they are doing all the right things.”(1)  If doing nothing is doing all the right things, he’s right.

Jim Newsome, the SPA’s CEO, made that 10-minute presentation before the vote.  He claims that the 25-year-old “Fantasy” will be retrofitted with “scrubbers” that will reduce sulpher dioxide and soot when it goes into dry dock in October, 2015, and the SPA plans to add an air quality monitor to the new terminal.  But even after years of complaints about soot, smoke, and health issues caused by cruise ships, neither has been done, and even the promise that anything will happen is a year and a half away.  Let’s be real: the ancient “Fantasy” isn’t far from the scrap heap, “scrubbers” are a weaker substitute for shoreside power in removing pollutants and particulates, and “scrubbers” on the “Fantasy” won’t stop airborne pollution from other cruise ships calling at Charleston.

We’ve witnessed Carnival’s murky environmental record on the TV news, but do you also sense the SPA’s lack of concern?(4)

Jim Newsome parsed his words when he said there “is no data that cruise ships create a health issue in Charleston.”  Note that prepositional phrase, “in Charleston.”  Because cruise ships do pollute, and there’s lots of data.(5,6,7)  But if that statement didn’t give you a sense of Jim Newsome’s commitment to reduce cruise ship emissions, consider this one: “I think the general thrust is that they [the Council] endorse that we are doing what is best to improve air quality in the harbor and we will see where it goes from there.”

Are you breathing easier?

In 2012, in an op-ed written by Dr. Stephen Schabel of the Charleston County Medical Society, he noted a proposed resolution claiming that the “average cruise ship discharges four times the amount of airborne pollutants, especially sooty particulates, compared to the average cargo ship, thus affecting residents and visitors when ships run their engines continuously…for hours while passengers embark and disembark.”   Dr. Schabel added, “The effects of airborne pollutants have been shown to include increased chronic respiratory and heart diseases and increased cancer risk, especially among dockworkers, merchants and residents closest to the docks” and that “onshore power” reduces “airborne cruise ship pollutants by up to 90%.”(8)

It’s sad that the same City Council that stomped out smoking on the sidewalks around our hospitals has never attempted to regulate far more serious toxic emissions from cruise ships in port–or demand the obvious healthy shore power alternative.

#   #    #

–Jay Williams, 27 Feb 14

 

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.

1)  Charleston City Council approves resolution supporting shoreside power – Post and Courier
http://www.postandcourier.com/article/20140225/PC05/140229627/1010/charleston-city-council-approves-resolution-supporting-shoreside-power

2)  Charleston City Council to address support for shoreside power…  – Post and Courier
http://www.postandcourier.com/article/20140218/PC05/140219326/1010/city-council-to-address-support-for-shoreside-power-at-downtown-cruise-terminal

3) Shore power is the wave of the local cruise future – Mike Seekings – Post and Courier
http://www.postandcourier.com/article/20140224/PC1002/140229768

4)  Disney Gets Top Grade on Cruise Ship pollution Report – USA Today
http://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/news/2013/10/23/cruise-ship-pollution/3170463/

5)  2013 Cruise ships pollution – Friends of the Earth
http://www.foe.org/cruise-report-card

6)  Air samples at cruise ship docks worldwide – Friends of the Earth
http://www.foe.org/news/archives/2013-12-air-samples-at-cruise-ship-docks-worldwide-find-dangerous-soot-lvls

7)  Harboring Pollution – strategies to clean up U.S. Ports – Natural Resources Defense Council
http://www.nrdc.org/air/pollution/ports/execsum.asp

8)  Reduce the risks of air pollution from cruise ships – Dr. Stephen Schabel, Charleston County Medical Society – Post and Courier
http://www.postandcourier.com/article/20120308/ARCHIVES/303089919

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