Jay’s Blog

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

CHS | Why we’re lucky to have the Post and Courier

There are big differences in journalistic integrity among today’s newspapers.  Some papers refuse to be self-critical, some papers stifle comments and opinions opposed to their editorial positions, are critical of the paper or one of their reporters or columnists.   Some were once “great newspapers” that became great by reporting stories honestly and serving as a forum for an open public discourse of issues and ideas.   But in the industry’s new era of cost-cutting, media bias and compromise, many have slipped.
Today the editors of Charleston’s Post and Courier demonstrated greatness.  It wasn’t simply because they published the op-ed below, but because this particular op-ed openly criticized the viewpoint of a popular columnist.  They didn’t have to publish it.  No one would have known.  But they published it.  Unedited.  Charles Rowe and the P&C editorial board deserve credit.  We’re fortunate to have a newspaper in Charleston run by people who still care about journalism’s highest calling.

Here’s that op-ed: “Court keeping a Close Eye on Cruise Issue.”

BY JAY WILLIAMS

If Brian Hicks and Mayor Joe Riley are your only information sources about the proposed Union Pier cruise terminal project, you may be forgiven for not knowing much about it. Especially about two of the most recent lawsuits.

A recent Hicks column began, “The State Supreme Court was pretty dismissive to the ‘cruise control’ crowd last month” before saying that the justices “were sort of condescending.” And “if that wasn’t dismissive enough,” Hicks continued, “Mayor Riley called the lawsuit ‘almost laughable’ from the start.”

Fortunately, there are more nuanced commentators…

Please continue reading in today’s printed Post and Courier or at this link:

http://www.postandcourier.com/article/20140218/PC1002/140219420/1021/court-keeping-a-close-eye-on-cruise-issue

 

 

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 | The Lawsuits; what you may not know

CHS |  The Lawsuits; what you may not know

If Brian Hicks and Mayor Riley are your only information sources about the proposed Union Pier cruise terminal project, you can be forgiven for not knowing much about it.  Especially about two of the most recent lawsuits.

The most recent Hicks column began, “The State Supreme Court was pretty dismissive to the ‘cruise control’ crowd last month” before saying that the justices “were sort of condescending.”  And “if that wasn’t [sic] dismissive enough,” Hicks continued, “Mayor Riley called the lawsuit ‘almost laughable’ from the start.”(1)  Fortunately for Charleston, there are more nuanced commentators.

It’s correct that the SC Supreme Court dismissed the case concerning Carnival Cruise Line’s alleged violations of local and nuisance ordinances on a technicality, saying that the various neighborhood and preservation organizations weren’t the proper parties to make these claims.  But the court also said that individuals could bring claims in a separate lawsuit.(2,3)   Importantly, the court did not say any of the claims lacked merit, and as new claims may be raised against Carnival in the future, the suggestion that the court was “condescending” or that the claims are “laughable” is pure spin.

In a separate statement, Blan Holman, the Southern Environmental Law Center attorney representing the plaintiff’s noted that, “Today’s court ruling did not address whether Carnival’s home basing operation complies with local ordinances, or whether it is a nuisance that interferes with the property rights of neighboring home owners, as the plaintiffs alleged.”(4)  These are the allegations that Mr. Hicks and the mayor have elected to ignore.  Then there’s that second case…

Last September, as U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel tossed out the federal permit for the planned $35 million cruise terminal at Union Pier, he minced no words declaring that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers did not adequately review the project’s impacts on the area.  Chastising the Corps’ attorneys, Judge Gergel said, “I think you did an end run, you gave this permit the bum’s rush.”   Refusing to accept the SPA’s specious argument that the waterfront terminal only needed a federal permit to install five new pilings, the judge told the defendants’ attorneys, “You have an obligation to look at the entire project.  “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 process got distorted by limiting it to five piers.”(6)  This blog correctly predicted that the SPA and Army Corps would defiantly appeal the ruling, and they did before reconsidering their position last month.(7)

Because of this ruling, the Army Corps of Engineers must conduct a thorough review of all the environmental and historic impacts of locating a giant new cruise terminal at Union Pier.  Such reviews are very specific and Congressionally-mandated in these situations.  This is the same requirement that the SPA tried to evade earlier in its head-on rush to build a terminal before anyone might realize of all of its potential impacts.  Brian Hicks and Mayor Riley are no doubt upset by that failure to comport with the law.

Most importantly, Judge Gergel also highlighted the central problem of locating a cruise terminal near the heart of Charleston’s Historic District, arguably South Carolina’s centerpiece of tourism, culture, and economic development.  As the AP reported, “the judge said that there is evidence in the 1,200-page court record that the terminal is being designed for larger ships than now call and could more than triple the number of cruise passengers visiting the city.”(6)   And “triple” may be an understatement.

Later in his column, Brian Hicks wrote, “This is not over by a long shot.”  For that, he should be thankful.  Now there’s an opportunity during this federally-mandated process for the Army Corps to seek honest local input, do a thorough study of impacts, and research alternative locations for a cruise terminal.  Those contrived State Ports Authority “citizen input sessions” won’t cut it this time–a federal court will be watching.

Jay, 11 Feb 14

#   #    #

1)  Over, Cruise ship fight isn’t over until we say it is – Brian Hicks – Post and Courier
http://www.postandcourier.com/article/20140202/PC16/140209942/1177/over-cruise-ship-fight-isnt-over-until-we-say-it-is

2)  Limit Cruise ship consequences on peninsula – Steve Gates – P&C
http://www.postandcourier.com/article/20140204/PC1002/140209796/1021/limit-cruise-ship-consequences-on-peninsula

3) SC High Court throws out Cruise pollution case – Law 360
http://www.law360.com/articles/503095/sc-high-court-throws-out-carnival-cruise-pollution-case

4)  Supreme Court leaves legality of Cruise Harms in Historic Charleston unanswered  – Blan Holman, SELC
http://www.southernenvironment.org/newsroom/press_releases/supreme_court_leaves_legality_of_cruise_ship_harms_in_historic_charleston_u/

5)  SC Supreme Court tosses lawsuit seeking to block cruise ship operations – Meg Kinnard – AP
http://www.startribune.com/lifestyle/travel/241519801.html

6)  Judge tosses permit for SC Cruise Terminal – Bruce Smith – AP
http://bigstory.ap.org/article/judge-tosses-federal-permit-sc-cruise-terminal

7)  SPA and Army Corps of Engineers withdraw cruise terminal permit appeal – Charleston Business Journal
https://www.charlestonbusiness.com/news/50021-spa-army-corps-of-engineers-to-withdraw-cruise-terminal-permit-appeal

 

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 | After losing its permit, the SPA will surely compromise. Ah, no.

CHS | After losing its permit, the SPA will surely compromise.  Ah, no.

U.S. District Court Judge Richard M. Gergel ruled that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers failed to comply with the “formal assessment and consultative requirements” of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) before awarding the SC Ports Authority (SPA) a permit to transform “a previously permitted transit shed…into a modern state-of-the-art $35-million cruise ship passenger terminal” at Union Pier in Charleston.

The Army Corps, for unknown and probably unknowable reasons, had determined that complying with the NEPA and NHPA assessments was unnecessary because “the proposed activity will result in minimal individual and cumulative adverse environmental effects.”  The project, the Corps said, would qualify as “maintenance,” and stated that the cruise terminal project had “no potential to cause effects on historic properties.”

Judge Gergel ruled otherwise. The Army Corps of Engineers, he said, ignored its responsibilities to do a proper assessment under the controlling NEPA and NHPA acts by saying that it was limiting its review to only five new pilings to support elevators and escalators that would come in contact with navigable waters.  That argument, the Court said, is “plainly inconsistent with the Army Corps’ own regulation…which provides for jurisdiction involving ‘any structure in or over any navigable water in the United States.'”   In his conclusion, the judge went farther, saying that rather than consider “all the activities in its jurisdiction under the Rivers and Harbors Act ‘in its scope of analysis,’ 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.”

“By omitting more than 99% of the project within its jurisdiction…  “The Court finds that the Army Corps’ limitation of the ‘scope of analysis’ to five concrete pile clusters was arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable, and contrary to law.”

Almost equally disturbing were the SPA’s own statements and data that it presented 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.'”  “Record evidence provided by the Ports Authority supports the [opponent’s] 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.”  By 2012, the number of ships visiting Charleston had increased by 86% over “the 2005-2009 five-year average.”

And the SPA also gave us a glimpse into a far worse future.  With a new terminal, the 1990’s-era, 855’, 2,056-passenger Carnival “Fantasy” will be replaced with ships carrying 3,450 passengers.  And based on the SPA’s data, the Court concluded, “Even if the Ports Authority maintained its voluntary cap of 104 cruise ship visits a year(2), this would represent a 131% increase over the 2005-2009 five year average and a 24% increase from 2012.”   And to service such a volume of passengers, the Court noted, the SPA estimates that on an average embarkation and disembarkation day, “up to twenty tractor trailers, sixteen small trucks, thirty-two busses, ninety 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.”

So how do you think the SPA reacted to the ruling?   Did it agree to comply, did it suggest a compromise, or did it offer to study another, less invasive location for a terminal?   No.  It appealed.  The appeal came in spite of the SPA’s own website that appears to invalidate any argument that their project could be considered “maintenance”:  “…Charleston is an ideal cruise port.  With an efficiently run operation and plans for a new state-of-the-art cruise terminal, our port is ready to welcome cruise operators and travelers alike.”(3)  Yes, and with the widening of the Panama Canal and a newly prosperous Chinese middle class, are we to believe that those ships of the future will carry only 3,450 travelers?

But if you’re looking for relief from Charleston’s mayor or its complacent, compliant City Council, forget it.  Mayor Joseph Riley recently reiterated his total lack of interest in regulating cruise ship tourism.(4)   So it’s up to the courts.

Oral arguments in another case will be presented this Tuesday, this one at the SC Supreme Court.(5)   Carnival Cruise Lines will argue to dismiss charges that it’s violating zoning ordinances, permitting requirements and creating a nuisance.(6)  True to form, both the SPA and the City of Charleston intervened in this case on behalf of…the defendant, not on behalf of the residents, organizations and associations trying to protect Charleston from the accelerating threat of unregulated cruise ship tourism.

Surely the SC Supreme Court read Judge Richard Gergel’s decision and recognizes the defendant’s fallacious assertion that their massive floating resorts can tie up at will, disgorge thousands of people simultaneously onto the world’s most cherished historic places, and then ignore every rule and regulation these historic places have developed to protect their history, culture and quality of life.  Or must degradation accompany this exploitation?

Jay, 15 Nov 13

—-
1)   U.S. District of South Carolina, Charleston Division, Court Decision.  Preservation Society and Coastal Conservation League vs. US Army Corps of Engineers and SC Ports Authority
<Federal Cruise Permit SJ Order 9-18-13.pdf>

2)  The SPA has steadfastly refused to commit those “voluntary limits” in to legally binding limits.
“This Charleston Harbor Battle is over Cruise Ships” – NY Times
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/20/us/battle-in-genteel-charleston-over-cruise-ships.html?_r=0

3)  South Carolina Ports website – Cruise Charleston page
http://www.port-of-charleston.com/cruises/cruises.asp

4)  Reports of Mayor Joseph Riley’s comments at the membership meeting of the Charlestowne Neighborhood Assn., 29 Oct 13.

5)  South Carolina Supreme Court, Register of Cases for November, 2013.  Look for first case on 19 November.
http://www.judicial.state.sc.us/supremeRosters/dspSupRosterMenu.cfm

6)  “Carnival Cruise Lines asks for Dismissal of Suit” – Post and Courier
http://www.postandcourier.com/article/20110810/PC05/308109921

 

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.

Jay’s Newest Post: Can a federal judge save Charleston from becoming Venice?

Can a federal judge save Charleston from becoming Venice?

In the nick of time, U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel tossed the permit for the SPA’s (SC State Port’s Authority) planned $35 million cruise terminal in Charleston.  The judge ruled that the US Army Corps of Engineers did not adequately review the project’s impacts on the area, accused the Crops of “doing an end run,” and chastised the Corps’ attorneys: “You gave this permit the bum’s rush.”(1)

Noting the problems the large cruise terminal could create for the environment and the city’s historic district, among the several critical impacts that should have been carefully studied, but weren’t, Judge Gergel told the Corps’ attorneys, “You have an obligation to look at the entire project. 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 process got distorted by limiting it to five piers.”

The judge noted that within the 1,200 pages of documents that there is evidence “that the terminal is being designed for larger ships than now call and could more than triple the number of cruise passengers visiting the city,” according to Bruce Smith’s Associated Press report.(2)  The judge said, “Somehow the Corps has reduced a major project to something that is less than 1 percent of the project.  I feel like I’m a nanny here trying to get you to do what Congress intends.”   The judge did not say, but we will, that the existing pier at Union Pier is 1800′, easily long enough to accommodate any of the largest ships afloat!

The SPA’s relentless “hurry up” rush to build a new cruise terminal at Union Pier near downtown was, temporarily, at least, placed “in irons” by the decision.  The judge’s formal ruling could come at any time and will likely be issued within the next 30 days.  And what happens next will likely depend on Judge Gergel’s written order.

Swimmers take venice

Swimmers take venice

(photo credit: Protesters leapt into Venice’s Giudecca Canal to block cruise ships inside the port last week  They and 1,000 supporters say that the cruise ships tower over the historic rooftops and drown the city in tourism. Photo: Getty Images (3))

We’re “not sure if that [order] will require SPA to ‘reapply’ but it will presumably require the Corps to reexamine SPA’s application by looking not just at the pilings needed for a new cruise terminal, but the cruise terminal itself,” Blan Holman, managing attorney of the Charleston office for the Southern Environmental Law Center informed this blog.  “That is, the Corps would need to consider the impacts of building a new cruise terminal, and, as well, options for reducing or avoiding those impacts.  Shore power, satellite parking, limits on ship size and number, alternative [terminal] locations — these come to mind,” adding, “And it’s possible that the Corps and the SPA will appeal that ruling…”   Holman noted that there are two other lawsuits pending, “One is a challenge to DHEC’s approvals for the terminal; that matter is currently pending before the SC Administrative Law Court (ALC).”  And “The third piece of litigation is the lawsuit filed by several neighborhood associations, the Preservation Society, and the Conservation League against Carnival for violating zoning ordinances, permitting requirements and creating a nuisance.”

The importance of the judge’s written order can’t be overstated.  The impacts of cruise tourism, as the severely damaged city of Venice has found out, are varied and immense.  Last Saturday, when this Venice picture was snapped, unusual circumstances had allowed 12 cruise ships to head past St. Mark’s Square in one day!  The main problem in Venice, as a speaker informed the Preservation Society’s cruise conference last year, is that ships are permitted to dock adjacent to the historic city, are creating incredible, irreversible impacts to the city’s historic foundations, culture, civil structure, and local populace–over half of whom have left the city in the past three decades.  The only solution now, said the expert, is to move the port across to the mainland, away from the city; that would dramatically reduce the impacts.  That could be a solution in Charleston, too, as the Corps was required to study alternate locations for the terminal–and never did.

Judge Gergel’s decision is good news for Charleston.  “We welcome this ruling because it clarifies the obligation the SPA has to protect the environment and the historic character of the city.  We hope this will open the door for more productive discussions about how to best deal with cruise traffic in Charleston,” Dana Beach, executive director of the Coastal Conservation League, told this blog.

We welcome it, too.  And we hope it forces the SPA and the city to look beyond their immediate interests and agendas and into the future.  Because that future will be crammed with ever-growing numbers of ever-larger cruise ships carrying millions more passengers every single year.(4)   Once upon a time, cruise ships weren’t a problem in Venice.  Now they are, and any solution will cost hundreds of billions–and come too late to save Venice.

–Jay, 24 Sept 13

#   #    #

1)  Judge docks Charleston Cruise Terminal Study – Post and Courier
http://www.postandcourier.com/article/20130912/PC05/130919772

2)  Judge tosses federal permit for SC cruise terminal – Bruce Smith/AP
http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/09/12/3622606/judge-tosses-federal-permit-for.html

3)  Protesters dive into Venice canal to protest cruise ships – The Telegraph (UK)
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/italy/10326417/Protesters-dive-into-Venice-canal-to-block-cruise-ships.html

4)  Growth of the Cruise line industry – Cruise Market Watch
http://www.cruisemarketwatch.com/growth/

 

Written by jwilliams
The Charleston Cruise Control Blog, written by Jay Williams, Jr. and published periodically since May, 2011, consists of opinions and commentary about cruise ship tourism. Although Jay is a C4 Advisory Board member and a board member of the Charlestowne Neighborhood Assn., the opinions he expresses are his alone; they are not intended to represent C4 or any other organization or any member of any organization. Mr. Williams is an independent blogger/writer. These blogs provide C4 website visitors an additional information source regarding the cruise terminal debates and discussions in Charleston.

 

Jay’s Latest Blog

BULLETIN:

Federal U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel tossed out the federal permit that was required to build the SPA’s (SC State Ports Authority) proposed new cruise terminal at Union Pier near downtown Charleston.(1)

After reviewing hundreds of pages of briefs and documents and hearing two hours of oral testimony, the judge ruled that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers did not adequately review all the necessary criteria before issuing the permit and that its analysis was flawed by limiting it to installing the pilings. This marks a huge victory for conservationists and preservationists who had argued that the Corps did not take into consideration any of the impacts that a new terminal would have on the environment, the city or the historic districts before issuing its now jettisoned permit. The Corps and the SPA had argued that the installation of five new clusters of pilings underneath a building that was already used for maritime purposes would have little impact, but neighborhood, civic, and preservations groups, media outlets and this blog successfully argued that the permitting process itself had mandated a wider review.

“The scope of the analysis was done wrong,” Judge Gergel said in court today. This is one of three lawsuits filed against the cruise terminal that many opponents have charged will bring more unregulated tourists, traffic, congestion, noise and pollution into an area that could be permanently damaged as a result.(2) The SPA, the state legislature, and the city have all refused to put any restrictions on the rapidly growing cruise industry or its operations in Charleston.

–Jay, 12 Sept 13

1) Judge tosses federal permit for $35 million cruise terminal – Associated Press
http://www.live5news.com/story/23411575/sc-cruise-lawsuit-being-heard-in-federal-court

2) Back to drawing board for Army Corps… – Post and Courier
http://www.postandcourier.com/article/20130912/PC05/130919772/federal-judge-orders-more-review-in-cruise-terminal-permit

 

Written by jwilliams
The Charleston Cruise Control Blog, written by Jay Williams, Jr. and published periodically since May, 2011, consists of opinions and commentary about cruise ship tourism. Although Jay is a C4 Advisory Board member and a board member of the Charlestowne Neighborhood Assn., the opinions he expresses are his alone; they are not intended to represent C4 or any other organization or any member of any organization. Mr. Williams is an independent blogger/writer. These blogs provide C4 website visitors an additional information source regarding the cruise terminal debates and discussions in Charleston.

Cruise Ship Docks May Be Good for Business, but Some Charleston Residents Want Them Gone

Imagine yourself reclined on a cruise ship, sipping piña coladas, and leisurely moving through the ocean to the next stop along your week-long journey. What could be more idyllic?

Now, imagine the thick clouds of smoke, the swarms of tourists and all of the noise that cruise ships bring to port cities. That’s the experience that a group of homeowners in Charleston, South Carolina associate with these gigantic ships docking in their quaint, historic downtown.

They don’t want the city to expand its cruise terminal — at least not in the historic district, where some buildings date back to the 1700’s.

But the City of Charleston is doing all it can to push back, saying that millions of dollars worth of tourist dollars are at stake.

It’s one issue that mirrors some of the complex problems that arise with an expanding cruise line industry. This debate has grown more traction in the wake of Carnival Cruise Lines’ Triumph’s on-board fire caught fire last week. Reporter Kim Severson, at our partner The New York Times, wrote about the growing pushback against the cruiseline industry in coastal cities around the country.

The Trauma on the “Triumph”

Kalin Hill/Kalin Hill, via Associated Press

“Weary and miserable, sickened by the stench of sewage,” the last of more than 4,200 passengers and crew hobbled off the Carnival “Triumph” Friday, “after tugboats lugged it to the Alabama shore and finally brought an end to a five-day floating nightmare,” “the agony prolonged by a snapped cable connecting the ship to one of four tugboats,” NBC News reported early today.(1)  “In the sweltering heat, passengers set up tent cities on outdoor decks, hoping to catch a breeze or simply unwilling to endure the stench emanating from inside.”  Other reports tell of tempers flying, overflowing toilets, “squishy carpets,” long lines for food, sickened passengers, children “hysterically crying” and “sewage running down the walls and floors.”(2) “The ship’s afloat, so is the sewage,” said a passenger.

The horrific five-day ordeal that began Sunday when a fire erupted on the 13-year-old Carnival “Triumph” cruise ship that knocked out power, leaving it adrift in the Gulf “without propulsion, with little running water, less electricity, and utterly bereft of sanitation.”(3)  Passengers alternately endured 90-degree heat and cold rainstorms, many forced out of their cabins as the inoperable toilets and broken air-conditioning systems made the stench and running sewage unbearable.

Under conditions described as “vile,” “filthy,” and “horrible,” one passenger texted, “Room smells like an outhouse. Cold water only, toilets haven’t work in 3 1/2 days…”It’s 4:00 am. Can’t sleep…it’s cold & I’m starting to get sick.”  Another passenger, Renee Shaner, told the AP, “People have gotten food poisoning. Old people have fallen and hurt themselves.”  Another passenger reported “terrible” conditions, standing in line three hours just to get a hot dog, being forced to urinate in the shower, and using plastic bags to go to the bathroom.(4)

Yet as the crises worsened, Carnival CEO Gerry Cahill merely called conditions on the ship “challenging.”(5)   Appearing under-informed, perhaps he needed a thesaurus to adequately describe the catastrophe on-board.  Days later, he more profusely apologized.

“The problems of the “Triumph” fit into a larger picture, too, one painted by a booming cruise industry that increasingly is priced for the middle class but that critics say has become too large too fast and needs stronger, more consistent oversight,” a New York Times story written by Kim Severson and other reporters noted, adding, “[w]ith the industry’s popularity has come concerns over safety, pollution and the impact of thousands of tourists.  Communities including Key West, Fla.; Sitka, Alaska; and Charleston, S.C., are weighing the economic gains against the cultural and environmental impact of an industry with ships that can accommodate more than 6,000 people.  ‘There are more ships out there, so we are seeing a higher number of incidents like this, and that is not good for the cruise industry,’ said Ross Klein, a faculty member at Memorial University in Newfoundland who has testified before Congress on the safety and environmental impact of cruise ships.”(6)

Inopportunely and only days before the “Triumph’s” horror show, South Carolina State Ports CEO Jim Newsome emailed, “Cruise ships, like any of the other ships calling our port, represent maritime commerce activity that is essential to supporting our local maritime community.”  Codswallop, Mr. Newsome.  Cruise ships aren’t like “any of the other ships,” they aren’t essential, and they represent only a small fraction of port revenues.

Cruise ships are sardine cans packed with passengers and crew, susceptible to horrific accidents that instantly can put thousands at risk for their lives.  Although everyone has seen the sunken Carnival-owned Costa Concordia that took 33 passenger lives, few know that there have been 79 cruise ship fires since l990.  Former Carnival Cruise Lines senior executive Jay Herring admits, “There are so many moving parts and things that can go wrong.”(7)  In the case of the Carnival “Triumph,” they did.  The NY Daily News wrote that “the interior portions of the 14-story ship have been turned into a sweltering, gut churning sauna far removed from the vision of the boat as ’24 hours of fun a day’ that the company promotes on its website.”  One person related: “It’s like a bunch of savages on there.”(8)   We’re unlikely to find out all that may have happened.

These people getting off the “Triumph” in Mobile are sick, some may be infected with nanoviruses; the crew (given credit by many passengers for their efforts) may be in worse shape; and certainly the ship itself is filthy and contaminated.  These cruise ships, owned by foreign owned corporations, are not subject to the rigorous inspections required of ships registered in the US, their crews are also not given the same working condition protections, and, in fact, the Bahamian authorities will lead this accident investigation. “The result is that cruise ships are largely unregulated,” says maritime lawyer James Walker on CNN’s website.(9)  Yet the potential for sickness, viruses and disease coming ashore is another important reason that cruise terminals must be isolated–kept apart and isolated for the safety of concentrated, general population areas.  It’s not just the taxis, the provisioning trucks, the toxic soot and continuous noise, the parking, pollution and traffic problems, the requirements for ship and food safety, dangerous weapons and border security–the health of our residents is another reason why Charleston’s proposed large-scale cruise terminal must not be built at Union Pier downtown.

1)  Tempers started flying; passengers tell of filth and flight – NBC News
2)  Kids on stranded ship call home “hysterically crying” – Fox News Video
3)  Cruise Ships, they’re just floating bathrooms – The Daily Beast
4)  Moor Delay – Carnival’s cruise from hell won’t dock until dark – Fox News
5)  Passengers leave crippled cruise – USA Today
6)  Cruise lines woes are far from over as ship makes port – NY Times
7)  Cruise passengers describe horrendous conditions on disabled ship – AP
8)  Foul conditions aboard stranded Carnival Cruise Ship…   –NY Daily News
9)  What cruise lines don’t want you to know – CNN

The fantasy of “the Fantasy”

 

Charleston was recently named Conde Nast Traveler’s Readers’ Choice Top
Destination in the World!(1)  After 2015, such an honor is unlikely.

Why do tourists love Charleston?  Ohio residents Gary and
Marilyn Steyskal, who’ve visited twice a year since the ’80’s, say, “It’s the
history, the restaurants, the historical churches, and we like to explore old
cemeteries.  We always find something we haven’t seen before.”(2)  Those reasons
match many surveys that proclaim Charleston’s charm, history, historic homes and
gardens, architecture, ambiance, culture, restaurants, and friendly people as
the draw for almost 5 million tourists annually.  Tourists don’t take those
horse-drawn carriages to the Citadel Mall–they head downtown into the historic
neighborhoods to wander through the quaint streets and charming neighborhoods,
relax in one of our restaurants and browse the downtown shops.  People want to
see historic Charleston; that’s why they come.

Sadly, a cherished history doesn’t portend a glorious
future.  Ask the people who once lived in Venice, Italy, Dubrovnik, Croatia or
Key West, Florida.  These are cities changed, damaged or in decline.  People
left as carelessness replaced civility and T-shirt vendors displaced charming
shops.  Much of the damage was caused by the rapid increase of cruise ship
visits so near the historic centers of these cities.  That’s why the National
Trust for Historic Preservation has put Charleston on special “Watch Status”
when it released its list of “Americas 11 Most Endangered Places in 2011.”(3)

The biggest myth of cruise ship tourism is that what you see
is what you’ll get.  As upsetting as it may be for those in Ansonborough and on
the East Side, proponents say it won’t get worse.  That’s “the fantasy.”  It’s
about to get a lot worse.

First, cruise ships carried 2 million passengers in the
l980’s; this year, they’ll carry 18 million!  Modern cruise tourism, increasing
by 7.2% annually, is the fastest growing segment of the leisure travel
industry.(4)

“As a result of this growth…  “Second, cruise ships are getting bigger,
much bigger.”

Second, Cruise ships are getting bigger, much bigger.  The
“Fantasy,” the 22-year-old ship that’s home-ported in Charleston, is the oldest
ship and one of the smallest in Carnival’s fleet.  Rumor has it, it’s for
sale.(5)  When she’s gone, she won’t be replaced by another 70,000-ton ship with
2,060 passengers and a crew of 920.  For a glimpse at what’s sailing over the
horizon, check out the ship Carnival just ordered.  She’ll be the first of a
new, larger class–a 135,000-ton behemoth that will carry 4,000 passengers.(6)
Royal Caribbean already sails two, even larger ships, the “Allure of the Seas”
and the “Oasis of the Seas.”  Each carries 6,300 passengers and 2,400 crew.(7)
Each is also five times larger than the Titanic!

Third, these aren’t like ships of the past that were built to
take passengers from one port to the next.  When Carnival reinvented the cruise
industry in l972, each ship was designed to be the destination.  This brilliant
business model lures passengers with a low-priced deals, then encourages them to
spend and spend once on-board.  And there’s lots to spend on: upscale
restaurants, spa treatments, drinks at multiple bars and nightclubs, adult-only
serenity retreat, “meet and mingle” lounges, city-styled “shopping streets,”
casinos, plus “entertainment options all up and down the ship” as one Carnival
offering promotes.(8)  Why just take passengers from one port to another to
spend their money if they’ll spend money on the ship?(9)   That business plan is
working!  Royal Caribbean, the third largest cruise line, rolled out its public
offering just two weeks ago at $19 a share–those shares jumped 31% the first
day!  Carnival Corp., with 99 ships, is valued at $30 billion.(10)  Today’s
mega-ships compete for tourist dollars with land-based resorts totally unlike
yesterday’s ships that contributed to the ports they visited.(11)

Fourth, in spite of these facts and trends, the State Ports
Authority (SPA) unilaterally decided to wedge a giant new cruise terminal in at
Union Pier next to historic downtown.  The SPA never engaged Charleston’s
citizens in a discussion about alternative locations; in fact, it never
considered any other location even though regulations required such a study.(12)
It never researched other historic cities–those that haven’t been damaged by
cruise tourism–where their cruise terminals are farther removed from their
historic downtowns, neighborhoods and small streets.  So soon, unless fate or
common sense (both unlikely) or a lawsuit (only slightly less unlikely)
intervene, thousands more passengers, in concentrated throngs, will swarm
through the streets of Charleston’s historic districts with those crowds growing
by 7.2% year after year.

The SPA has also rejected every single idea to mitigate the
damage that a 100,000 sq. ft. cruise terminal, 9 acres of parking, traffic and
passenger congestion, the swarm and pollution of provisioning trucks, homeland
and border security, and increasingly large cruise ships will cause near
downtown.  The SPA refused to agree to binding limits on the size, number of
ships, or frequency of visits, and it’s refused to install shore power or demand
non-sulfer (toxic) diesel fuel be required while these ships idle for eight
hours a day in port.  It’s ignored every olive branch, every warning by doctors,
every concern raised about the damage cruise terminals have caused to other
historic cities.(14)  The only way to bring the SPA to the negotiating table is
to stop this “fast track” terminal approval…somehow.   If the brakes aren’t
applied, and this giant new cruise terminal is permitted for Union Pier, with an
existing 1800 foot pier that can accommodate these mega-ships, the impacts will
be devastating for Charleston’s historic districts including Ansonborough,
downtown, the French Quarter and South of Broad.  Once it’s built and the
dangers are finally realized, it’ll be too late.

Two things are certain. The SPA’s mantra ad nauseum about Charleston’s
“300 years of port history” is bunk.(15)  And so is the implied corollary that
Charleston’s fabled history can protect it from a future of unbridled,
unregulated tourism.  The continuous, explosive surge of cruise ship tourists is
unlike any threat from the past.  And given the immense resources and power of
the cruise industry, what local “regulations,” even if imposed, couldn’t be
weakened?  Charleston’s only defense is to get this proposed terminal moved
farther away…somehow.

–Jay

#   #    #

a)  “Harboring Tourism” Symposium details and registration
information

http://www.preservationsociety.org/default_detail.asp?haID=258

aa)  Story about Symposium on Cruise Ships in Historic Ports set for
Charleston – Miami Herald

http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/02/03/3214903/conference-on-cruises-in-historic.html

1)  Charleston names top city in the world [sic] – ABC News 4

http://www.abcnews4.com/story/19833128/charleston

2)  Conde Nast declares Charleston top tourist city in the World – Post and
Courier

http://www.postandcourier.com/article/20121017/PC05/121019368

3)  Positive news for Charleston Lawsuit – National Trust for Historic
Preservation

http://blog.preservationleadershipforum.org/2013/01/11/positive-charleston-lawsuit/#.UQrAv45Z_WE

4)  Florida-Caribbean Cruise Assn. – PDF

http://www.f-cca.com/downloads/2012-Cruise-Industry-Overview-Statistics.pdf

5)  Cruise critic – reader thread

http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=1736961

6)  Carnival Cruise Lines – Wikipedia

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carnival_Cruise_Lines

7)  On Earth – Can the cruise industry clean up its act?

http://www.onearth.org/article/dreamboat?page=1

8)  The Carnival “Dream” – Carnival website

http://www.carnival.com/cruise-ships/carnival-dream.aspx

9)  Cruise industry throttling up again…  – AOL Daily Finance

http://www.dailyfinance.com/2012/10/25/royal-caribbean-earnings-cruise-industry-outlook-deals/

10)  Norwegian Cruise Line IPO soars 31% – USA Today

http://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/cruises/2013/01/17/norwegian-cruise-ipo-prices/1843051/

11)  International Review of Management – Dubrovnik.  (PDF Download)www.econjournals.com/index.php/irmm/article/download/257/pdf

12)  Groundhog Day – Jay Williams blog

http://www.charlestoncruisecontrol.org/2012/groundhog-day/

13)  The SPA’s “Defiant”  – Jay Williams blog

http://www.charlestoncruisecontrol.org/2011/the-spas-defiant/

14)  It’s all ao Unnecessary – Jay Williams blog

http://www.charlestoncruisecontrol.org/2012/its-all-so-unnecessary-an-edited-version-of-my-comments-submitted-to-the-sc-office-of-ocean-and-coastal-management-these-are-the-facts-and-opinions-that-everyone-who-cares-about-charleston-s/

15)  The Future isn’t what it Used to Be – The Charleston Mercury

http://charlestonmercury.com/articles/2012/05/16/opinion/editorials/doc4fb3f4bc3d1d9735621349.txt