Jay’s Blog

The SPA needs a course correction

by Jay Williams

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The SPA needs a course correction

February 5, 2020

|Jay Williams, Jr.

The Advocate

First Scots’ Fellowship Hall was so packed for January’s Charlestowne Neighborhood Association meeting, that some CNA members were left standing to hear the presentation from the State Ports Authority (SPA).

Ms. Barbara L. Melvin, the SPA’s chief operating officer, began by touting the port’s decade of continuous annual growth, dredging the harbor from 45’ to 52’, the new Leatherman Terminal project, its 535 employees and $300 million in annual revenues. Then she got to its cruise business.

The attendees perked up.

The cruise industry represents just four percent of the SPA’s business, Ms. Melvin said and we’re staying within our “voluntary restrictions” of 104 ships a year, with a 3,500 passenger limit, hosting only one ship in port at a time. She also said that they have made “traffic more tolerable for people who live downtown,” adding that they pay for the off-duty police officers to assist.

But when Ms. Melvin veered close to addressing a passenger fee for the city, she demurred and said, “These passengers are cargo. We, as a port, are not in the tourism business.”

For many present, hoping for a discussion on quality of life issues, that assertion was nonsensical. “My jaw dropped,” said Carrie Agnew, executive director of Charleston Communities for Cruise Control, “It’s such an insensitive thing to say to people who live here.”

It wasn’t the first time.

The Advocate quoted Jim Newsome, the SPA’s president and CEO, last year as he offered that same argument. And again two weeks ago when Newsome told the Post and Courier, “We’re not in the tourist business; we’re in the maritime commerce business. The city doesn’t have a right to tax maritime commerce, so we think it’s an idea that doesn’t have legs.”

But here on land, that “maritime commerce” literally has legs. It is inundating our city and it’s as unwanted and as frequent as the flooding. The SPA’s “cargo” drives their cars through the city, ambles down our streets, uses our city’s infrastructure and facilities, leaves litter and debris and meanders through our shops seldom buying anything because this “cargo” knows they’re sailing to the Bahamas or the Caribbean to spend their money.

In many ports, the city owns the cruise terminal, but Charleston’s ports are owned by the SPA, a public-private consortium very loosely supervised by the state legislature. This autonomy has buttressed the SPA’s intransigence.

City Councilmember Mike Seekings offered his thoughts after the meeting, “We’re in the business of running a historic city that is growing, that has needs and that means we need better infrastructure to support the maritime business.

“The cruise business,” Seekings said, “is not just water based with no impact on the land. They’re using the city’s resources and we’re getting nothing. Those passengers transit on and across city property and they wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the cruise ships.”

A Landing Fee

What’s Seeking’s solution? “We don’t want to tax cruise ships, but we should have a landing fee for people coming in and out of the city. People who are using our resources should help pay for our resources,” he said. “Right now there’s only one industry exempt from that.”

“To allow someone at the end of Market Street to do hundreds of millions in business by taking people away from the city of Charleston, without paying any benefits to us, is inequitable,” Seekings said. “When people make that transition from maritime commerce into the city of Charleston, that’s the transition point where we collect that landing fee.”

Mayor John Tecklenburg took a slightly different approach in his State of the City address last week, citing flooding, “That’s why we’ll be meeting with state officials in the coming months to discuss changes in state law that would allow all our visitors, including hotel guests and cruise ship passengers, to help fund flooding solutions … supporting a responsible, reasonable extension of Home Rule …”

Jack O’Toole, the city’s director of communications, added emphasis to the mayor’s comments, “There are eight million people who come here and 140,000 who live here and we all need to contribute to solving the flooding problem. We need to look at the big picture.” O’Toole said the city is in conversations with the state delegation to work with the legislature to change the law so the city can raise taxes on tourists. “Under state law right now, we can’t raise the money,” O’Toole noted.

There’s another solution we should advance immediately. We could negotiate directly with Carnival to get voluntary fees for Charleston. Carnival is in the consumer business, they likely don’t view their passengers as “cargo,” and they may be open to offering the city a pass-through cost of $20 per passenger. It would be good public relations for Carnival and both the mayor’s office and Seekings thought the idea was worth pursuing.

The three-by-three-by-three Opportunity

Too little is known about an important Army Corps of Engineers Charleston Peninsula Study, guided by “the three-by-three-by-three rule.” Launched in October, 2018, this feasibility study will evaluate all possible actions to provide long-term coastal storm and flood risk management all around the Charleston peninsula. Depending on the location, those options could include concrete walls, tide gates and breakwaters as well as soft barriers and enhanced marshes.

This study is so named because it will be completed in three years, for $3 million and will involve all three levels of Corps review. Although this federally-funded study won’t be finished until October 2021, a draft report will be released for public review this April.

This is a big opportunity, Seekings says, citing the plethora of issues that must be discussed between the ports authority and the city. “We need to engage in conversation. This study may recommend a 12’ linear, land-based wall that could seriously affect Ports Authority property. Also, the SPA wants to sell parts of Union Pier anyway, even if they get permission to build a new terminal there. That land is wildly valuable. But the city controls the zoning and that zoning will impact the value,” Seekings noted. “We should be partnering.”

The Advocate has consistently recommended that the SPA move cruise ships up river to the Veteran’s Terminal. It has better access to major highways, plenty of parking and is better positioned for homeland security in this age of threats and viruses. This is just one of the many topics the SPA should put on the table for serious discussion.

The three-by-three-by-three study is coming up and any solution will impact both the ports and the city. The Union Pier land is exceptionally valuable and must be sold for a higher and better use than a waterfront parking lot — ideally a small-scale urban development consistent with historic Charleston’s downtown. Charleston is environmentally fragile from the water and on land; by definition, a cruise terminal is a threatening neighbor. At minimum, there must be remote parking to eliminate traffic gridlock and shore power to further reduce pollution. And Charleston doesn’t have enough money to address the frequent flooding conditions jeopardizing cruise passenger access or the city itself.

The SPA needs to come about.

CHS | The SPA can’t be left unleashed by Jay Williams Jr.

Is the Sunshine drawing rave reviews?  Not from Charleston residents.  
This isn’t about the heat; this Sunshine is the third in line of ever-larger Carnival ships to be home-ported here. For one citizen “sucked into the traffic undertow” on the East Side, the 3,000-passenger Sunshine represents a chilling reminder of the negative, largely unregulated repercussions of the SC State Ports Authority’s (SPA) cruise terminal operations in Charleston.  
For years, the SPA has run roughshod over residents’ concerns about cruise ship pollution, noise, traffic, congestion, and illegal dumping and environmental impacts. Bringing in a newer, bigger ship that instantly increases traffic, tourists, and congestion makes everything worse—and there’s no end in sight.  These ships will get bigger.  
Watch the Supreme Court argument
Can neighboring residents rein in the SPA and reduce the harmful effects of the cruise terminal?  The South Carolina Supreme Court will hear oral argument on this decisive case at 10 a.m., June 11thin Columbia.  If you care about your rights, you need to be there.  The significance of this decision goes well beyond the cruise terminal issue.
For eight years the SPA has relentlessly pursued the construction of a new cruise terminal declaring that the existing terminal is inadequate and doesn’t meet Homeland Security requirements.  But to build on the harbor, it needs both federal and state permits.
The SPA applied for and received its federal permit.  But six years ago, after opponents filed suit to oppose it, United States District Court Judge Richard Gergel tossed the SPA’s federal permit to build a $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.
“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,” he said.  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.  
The Army Corps is expected to render its revised decision later this year.
South Carolina has a parallel permitting role.  The SPA got a state permit for a new cruise terminal from DHEC, the SC Department of Health and Environmental Control.  Once again, that permit was challenged– this time the result was different.  

Administrative Law Judge Ralph King Anderson III ruled that thecitizens’ group plaintiffs which included environmental, historic preservation, and neighborhood groups, “lacked standing” and couldn’t challenge DHEC’s approval of the permits. The groups appealed, but the SC Court of Appeals sided with Judge Anderson, forcing them to make a final appeal to the SC Supreme Court.
Blan Holman, managing attorney in the Southern Environmental Law Center’s Charleston office who represents some of the citizens’ groups said, “On June 11th, the Supreme Court will hold oral argument on whether neighbors have any standing to challenge the lawfulness of permits issued for a new cruise terminal that would be located right next door to them.  Lower courts held that neighbors do not have standing because the injuries are felt by too many people. 
“We contend that injury to more than one person does not render a permit unchallengeable.  If anything it should require stricter review. The hearing is open to the public so that those interested can see the wheels of justice in motion. The court won’t rule at the hearing, but will issue an order some number of months down the road.”
Many observers suggest that there are broader citizens’ rights issues involved.
Attorney Holman agrees, “The issue before the Supreme Court goes to the right of families and property holders across South Carolina to contest unlawful pollution permits. If a person who physically experiences soot pollution first-hand at her home has no standing, then it is hard to imagine who would ever have standing. That should be a concern statewide since it would limit citizens’ rights to contest permits for toxic waste facilities, sewage plants, nuclear sites — you name it.”
The cruise industry powerhouse
In May, 2015, SPA CEO James Newsome told city council that the “one sector that has not grown at all is the cruise sector” citing similar passenger counts of 186,000 for both 2011 and 2015. “It’s not a growth industry, we’ve said that from the start.” He added, “The market for cruise ships in this port is not that big, it will never be that big.” Later in that speech, Newsome said that, “In 2010 … we had 67 cruise ships.” What he didn’t say was that Charleston would host 93 ships that year—an increase of almost 30-percent.
Perhaps CEO Newsome didn’t realize that worldwide cruise industry growth was exploding.  In 1990, four million cruisers set sail, but last year 27.2 million cruised the oceans, and 35-percent of them sail into the Caribbean.  Here in Charleston, we reached the SPA’s “voluntary limit” of 104 ships annually for the third year in a row.   
Cruise passenger growth distresses most downtown residents. Although the SPA voluntarily agreed to a limit of 104 ships annually with a maximum of 3,500 passengers per ship, those limits aren’t binding. A much-heralded city ordinance during Mayor Riley’s reign did not codify those limits as many had thought; it merely obligates the SPA notify the city a year in advance if it wants to exceed those “limits.”
As they wait for their permits, the SPA has lived up to its “voluntary limits.” But because these limits are not binding, you have to wonder what will happen if the SPA gets the permits necessary to build a new terminal.
Since 2011, citizens opposing the Union Pier site have proposed an elementary solution: Locate the new cruise terminal away from historic downtown. Potential sites include the underused 110-acre Veterans Terminal at the old Navy base near highways and able to handle cruise traffic without creating congestion. 
But the SPA has repulsed every suggestion to mitigate the negative impacts on Charleston, including moving it, adding shore power, adding a passenger fee to aid the city, developing off-site parking to reduce cruise traffic congestion, and returning some of the world’s most valuable waterfront parking lot to the city for taxable housing and development.  

Carnival is no prize either.  Since 2017, Carnival ships have been on probation by the federal government after the company admitted to “record falsification and numerous instances of prohibited discharge,” including multiple violations in Charleston waters.
The SPA can’t be left unleashed.  Residents must have legal rights to protect their health and property, and any cruise terminal permit must include key restrictions to protect our city.   This Supreme Court hearing could not be more important.
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CHS | A blog commentary about Charleston.  Please share with friends. Comments are always welcome – please click on the reply button. Comments, if published, will be posted anonymously.  

This column appears as “The Advocate” on page 2 of The Charleston Mercury.

It’s time for the SPA to sell Union Pier

By Jay Williams, Jr.

As Venice, Italy plans a multi-billion dollar mainland cruise terminal in response to cruise ship damage to the historic island city, the South Carolina State Ports Authority (SPA) is fixated on opening a new cruise terminal as close as possible to Charleston’s Historic District.

As Venetian officials voted to divert large cruise ships weighing over 96,000 tons away from St. Mark’s Square, the Grand Canal and the Ducal Palace, Carnival Cruise Lines announced that the 103,000 ton Carnival Sunshine will be home-ported near the end of Market Street.

As “Venice has faced an onslaught of tourism that has challenged the city’s character, clogged its narrow waterways and chased its local population away,” reports The New York Times, “There emerged no clearer symbol for the invasion of tourists than the cruise ships drifting, lunar-like, through the lagoon. They eclipsed church towers, famous views and, occasionally, the sun.”

Ironically, it’s the Sunshine, the largest Carnival ship ever home-ported here, that will block our sun and views. She accommodates 3,002 passengers, 50 percent more than the Ecstasy she’ll replace.

Charleston is sailing backwards, refusing to grasp the enormous damage the worldwide cruise industry has inflicted on historic port cities. We must confront the issue of a downtown cruise terminal head on.

Since 2011, citizens opposing the Union Pier site have proposed an elementary solution: Locate the new cruise terminal away from historic downtown. Potential sites include the Columbus Street Terminal, now mostly used as a parking lot and a shipping site for BMWs and the 110-acre Veterans Terminal at the old Navy base, not used for much of anything, yet near highways and able to handle cruise traffic without creating congestion.

Predictably, the SPA has repulsed every suggestion offered to mitigate the impacts of a cruise terminal downtown, including shore power and that includes moving it.

Now there’s a new question: Is the SPA attempting to ensure that it can’t be moved?

Last December, the SPA announced that it was selling 7.2 acres along with a 9,100 square foot building on Morrison Drive at the entrance to the Columbus Street Terminal. This on-street parcel, well away from downtown, would have provided an ideal entry for cruise terminal traffic.

Then last month, the SPA announced that it’s been negotiating a land swap that would hand over the Veterans Terminal to the Coast Guard and Homeland Security. Yet “in 2016,” reported the Post and Courier, “the SPA objected to a proposal to locate a new cruise ship facility at Veterans Terminal, saying that repairs would cost too much and that the terminal would play a key role in supporting a new cargo terminal being built at the nearby former Navy Base.”

The explosive growth in cruise travel

In May, 2015, SPA CEO James Newsome told city council that the “one sector that has not grown at all is the cruise sector” citing similar passenger counts of 186,000 for both 2011 and 2015. “It’s not a growth industry, we’ve said that from the start.” He added, “The market for cruise ships in this port is not that big, it will never be that big.”

Later in that speech, Newsome said that “In 2010 … we had 67 cruise ships.” What he didn’t say was that in 2015, Charleston would host 93 ships.

This year we’ve reached the SPA’s voluntary annual limit of 104 ships, for the second year in a row. And starting next year, Carnival predicts that the Sunshine alone will carry 220,000 passengers annually — “roughly matching the total number of passengers all ships brought to Charleston last year.” That’s a significant jump, because an additional 28 non-Carnival ships will visit Charleston this year.

Worldwide, cruise passengers soared from 4 million in 1990 to 25 million today.

Cruise passenger growth troubles many downtown residents. Although the SPA voluntarily agreed to limits of 104 ships annually with a maximum of 3,500 passengers per ship, those limits aren’t binding. A much-heralded city ordinance didn’t codify those limits as many thought; it only obligated the SPA notify the city a year in advance if it wants to break through those limits.

So far, the SPA has lived up to its voluntary limits and claims that will continue. Yet the SPA is still awaiting permission to build a terminal downtown at Union Pier, with an existing 1800-foot pier that can dock the world’s biggest ships.

If the SPA’s terminal application survives a citizens’ appeal in the S.C. Supreme Court and if its application is approved by the Army Corps of Engineers — in other words, if the SPA gets everything it wants — what will happen to those voluntary limits?

It’s not just the added traffic, noise, pollution, the high potential for irreversible environmental damage to the Historic District and the ever-growing discharge of cruise passengers onto our small-scale city that so strongly argues against a downtown cruise terminal. It’s economics and common sense.

That 63-acres on Union Pier may represent the most prized undeveloped waterfront property in the Southeast.

“It’s quite valuable,” one prominent commercial broker said, “it would depend on building heights and zoning allowed, of course, but harbor and waterfront property is very, very hard to come by. And private development is certainly a higher and better use than industrial or a cruise terminal.”

Hard evidence supports that opinion — the SPA’s 3.5-acre Concord Street waterfront headquarters sold for $38 million.

The lowest and worst use

The SPA plans to develop the southern 40 acres of the property. But using the remaining 23 prime acres for a cruise terminal, especially with nine acres of paved surface parking for cruise passengers, must be the lowest and worst use for this exceptional property.

“Acres of land for surface parking there is illogical,” said Jason Crowley, director of Communities and Transportation for the Coastal Conservation League, “and it doesn’t make any sense to sell any SPA property until we have a solution to the cruise terminal location that the city is involved in.”

“We should be addressing our resilience issues and restoring the shoreline back to a spongy, natural state that can absorb the velocity of water as it comes in,” Crowley said. Union Pier’s “hard edge” and acres of pavement that allows the water to “run off and flood our streets,” is inimical to resilience planning.

The SPA’s Newsome, quoted about an entirely different parcel, said selling off that property “will allow us to focus on our business as well as benefit the economy by returning public property to the local tax base.”

Union Pier is also “public property,” and the SPA can no longer stonewall public involvement. And the terminal’s “hard edge” with nine acres of paved parking is inexcusable and unacceptable.

Cruise ships represent just five percent of SPA revenues, the city receives no passenger revenue whatsoever and because Carnival passengers sail to become tourists in Nassau or Freeport, they don’t spend much money here.

A cruise terminal at Union Pier would constitute a misuse of this exceptional property, yet a planned 63-acre downtown development would transform the city, adding millions in tax revenues.

Charleston can’t afford this terminal plan. And if we don’t stop it, Venice won’t be the only city under water.

Jay Williams, Jr. arrived in Charleston in 2001 to escape the cold and relax in the warmth of a better culture and climate. This all worked well until May of 2011 when he attended a cruise terminal discussion at Physicians Hall.


Click to view article in full.


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.
#  #   #
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)










…same ship here and below.









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










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


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

CHS | TODAY is the Day to Write Your Letter!

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

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

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

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

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

Jonathan B. Tourtellot, a National Geographic fellow and founding director of the Center for Sustainable Destinations, says that a new Union Pier terminal may ultimately diminish and damage Charleston’s attractiveness labeling cruising “the strip mine of tourism.”  “Cruise ships can flood a city with people who are not necessarily interested in the place, and it becomes a turn-off to other tourists and locals. The most egregious case in the U.S. is Key West, but it’s a pattern we’ve seen repeated in Dubrovnik and Venice,” Tourtellot said, adding, “Charleston has a strong history of fine-tuning the balance of tourism, but if the [cruise] volume turns up and that balance tilts, it’s very hard to back out. In Dubrovnik, it’s forever changed the nature of the place.”(3)  Is this what lies ahead for Charleston?

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

Write your letter TODAY.

—Jay Williams Jr.

#   #   #


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

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

3)  Community:  All Aboard  –  Charleston Magazine


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


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

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

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


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.


1)  Historic Charleston website – candlelight tours

2)  More container volume, new cruise ship for Port of Charleston – Post and Courier

3)  Carnival Sunshine – Carnival website

4)  “More cruises, more questions”  – Post and Courier editorial