Posts Tagged katie zimmerman

Scrubbers can’t erase…

The South Carolina State Ports Authority announced last week that Carnival is retrofitting many of its cruise ships, including the Charleston-based Fantasy, with scrubbers to reduce air pollution.

While it is good to see some acknowledgement of the risks posed by diesel particulate soot, the reality is that the scrubber proposal is part of a Carnival plan to avoid burning cleaner fuel otherwise required by law.

What’s more, the fact remains that shore power — plugging in a cruise ship while it is docked — is the cleanest option available. Not only does shore power reduce the total amount of pollution emitted by hundreds of tons per year, it would disperse the remaining pollution over a much larger and less populated area.

Announcing the investment of scrubbers and filters by Carnival, SPA President and CEO Jim Newsome said that “the Fantasy’s exhaust comprises 0.05 percent of total pollutant emissions in Charleston County.”

This statement shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the danger associated with the pollutants from a significant diesel source: location, location, location.

When it comes to air pollution, and especially diesel air toxins, proximity matters. Other ports have located industrial cruise terminals away from population centers for that reason. Other ports have also installed shore power — including at the cruise terminal in Brooklyn, where a Carnival ship calls.

In Carnival’s eyes, Charleston is not worth that investment. In fact, Carnival’s proposal to use scrubbers is part of an overall corporate campaign to avoid burning cleaner fuel while in port and out at sea. The International Maritime Organization, and subsequently the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, approved a regulatory plan that required ships to start burning cleaner fuel in 2010, and fully phases in by the year 2015. Carnival led a major lobbying effort to overturn that rule, and ultimately was able to encourage the EPA to allow flexibility to the law through the experimental use of scrubbers and filters.

The EPA has granted the trial under the assumption that the scrubbers and filters will achieve the same effects as burning the cleaner fuel, but we will not know until the experiment begins.

Further, once the scrubbers and filters are installed on a ship, that particular ship no longer has to burn cleaner fuel. The use of scrubbers and filters adds to water pollution from cruise ships.

Studying the washwater left over from scrubbing and filtering, the EPA has pointed out that “use of scrubbers to clean the exhaust from marine engines using high sulfur residual oil and diesel fuels may lead to high concentrations of a number of harmful compounds in the water body around the ships.” These harmful compounds include polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), the largest known group of cancer-causing substances. PAHs also change the genetic materials of mammals, and bioaccumulate in edible shellfish consumed by humans.

The washwater also contains dangerous metals, such as arsenic, copper, lead, nickel, and selenium. Impacts from exposure to these metals include impaired organ function and reproduction, birth defects, and if at a high enough exposure, acute mortality.

In tests of scrubbers on cruise ships, the EPA determined that the amount of PAHs and metals disposed of could pose a risk to humans and other affected mammals and shellfish, and could also exceed water quality standards on a localized scale. Limits recommended by the International Maritime Organization “may not be sufficiently protective.”

The Post and Courier’s recent coverage of this debate included statements from our city leaders, such as “I think it [shore power] should be installed when needed … when it proves direct environmental benefit and it’s cost effective,” as well as “why is it necessary at this time?”

The data are here. It makes sense to include shore power in the design for the new cruise terminal. We also know the cost-sharing structure from other ports, including Brooklyn, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles, and Juneau, among others.

We know shore power will protect the most lives in our dense downtown where many people work, live, and visit.

The time for shore power is now. Any delay or refusal to acknowledge this fact makes it very clear where our elected leaders stand on a deadly threat to the public’s health.

Katie Zimmerman is program director of the Coastal Conservation League.

Ports of contention

Ports of contention
By Tom Stieghorst
Ports of contentionA week before the Costa Concordia ran aground in January 2012, a group of activists in Venice formed a committee to push back against the growing bulk of cruise ships there.

At first overshadowed by the drama of the Concordia accident, the group began to hold meetings, hang banners and organize demonstrations to call attention to its cause.

Among other things, the group objected to the disparity between the 12- to 15-story elevation of many cruise ships and the three- to five-story scale of the historical lagoon city.

Aided in no small part by the Concordia fallout, the Comitato No Grandi Navi struck paydirt in November, when Italy’s national government placed limits on larger cruise ships in Venice, starting this month.

While praising the move, committee spokesman Silvio Testa told the Corriere del Veneto newspaper that if it was a “sweetener” to get the group to relent, activists would not be satisfied as long as the big ships are still docking anywhere inside the lagoon.

“The battle certainly doesn’t stop, and continues,” Testa said.

Similar tussles are taking place in other cruise ports as the scale of cruise ships continues to grow. Particularly in dense, historical ports with varied sources of tourism, the cruise industry is taking flak from organized groups opposed to expansion.

In Key West, residents recently rejected a proposed widening of the cruise channel that would have eased access for larger ships. And in Charleston, S.C., preservationists have gone to court to block plans for a more modern downtown terminal.

The three cities have even combined forces, signing a joint resolution that outlines their objections to cruise tourism and their intent to work together on an international level.

“I’ve heard from Alaska, from Australia, from South America,” said Carrie Agnew, executive director of Charleston Communities for Cruise Control. “There are a lot of places that are suffering the same effects.”

In response, cruise officials have pointed to the economic benefits they bring to port cities. They also say that they want to work cooperatively to resolve the issues in Venice and elsewhere.

But cruise officials are also said to be looking at alternatives to these ports for growth, a historical pattern whenever cruise lines have found themselves crosswise with unhappy destinations.

The angst has emerged as more and bigger ships have floated out of Europe’s shipyards. Ports such as Venice can sometimes host a dozen cruise ships in a weekend, and places like Charleston are now homeports where they were once barely ports of call.

The Sea Dream I and other ships in Venice.In a quest for economies of scale, ships went supersize. Royal Caribbean International’s Allure of the Seas, today’s size king at 225,000 gross tons, takes up more than three times the volume of Royal’s Sovereign of the Seas, which less than 30 years ago was the world’s biggest cruise ship.

The larger ships can discharge thousands of passengers at a time, and several at once can combine to flood the sidewalks and alleys of towns with narrow street grids.

In Charleston, Agnew said the discomfort started in 2010 when Carnival Cruise Lines decided to homeport the Fantasy there.

“Charleston is a very small, very historic city,” Agnew said. “Now you have 2,000 people coming and going in a day, with all the purveyors and provisions. You have a lot of stuff happening in the heart of the historic district.”

The city’s old terminal is not well sited, forcing buses through a maze of tight turns and barriers. So Charleston’s mayor proposed a new, more spacious site in the district in a renovated warehouse.

Preservationists sued, and the project remains tied up in litigation.

Agnew said the worry is that a renovated terminal will bring more or bigger ships and further crowding, changing the charm and the “living historic city” that other tourists desire.

Agnew cites letters, such as one from a couple who frequent Charleston annually who said it took them 40 minutes longer to get to their hotel and upon arrival found their view blocked by a ship.

“There’s nothing wrong with cruise passengers, but they want to go to the Bahamas,” Agnew said. “We’re worried about losing people who do want to come to Charleston.”

That is also a theme in Key West, the quirky island that once declared itself the Conch Republic and tried to secede from the rest of the country. Long a naval base and a shrimping town, it has become dependent on tourism in recent years.

“We understand that tourism is our bread and butter,” said Jolly Benson, head of the Key West Committee for Responsible Tourism. “But we want to make sure that the tourism we do attract is repeat business.

“We have people who have been coming back every winter for 35 years,” Benson said. “And these people say, ‘You know, I don’t go downtown when there’s two ships in town.'”

Unlike Charleston, Key West is not a homeport. But it hosted about 330 ship calls this year and is a regular stop on both eastern and western Caribbean itineraries out of South Florida.

The historical district of Key West, with a Carnival ship in the background.Planners say the current 300-foot channel leading into the harbor inhibits the deployment of newer, bigger ships. Captains sometimes have to “crab” through the channel, steering at a 15-degree angle to wind and currents, a maneuver that pushes them close to the channel’s edges.

One solution is to widen part of the channel to 450 feet. A city bid to seek a U.S. Army Corps of Engineering feasibility study was opposed by 74% of Key West’s 25,000 residents when put to a referendum in October.

Quality-of-life issues and a reluctance to assume Key West’s part of the project’s bond debt were factors, Benson said, but perhaps most important were concerns about the project’s environmental impact.

The channel lies in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, home to protected species of coral and abundant sea life. The argument that silt from the project would harm the environment resonated with many who depend on fishing, diving or boating for a living, Benson said.

Environmental damage is also an issue propelling the anti-cruise forces in Venice, where the city’s 1,200-year-old foundations are slowly sinking. Activists claim that water displaced from ships traveling the Giudecca Canal past Piazza San Marco on the way to the Venezia Terminal Passeggeri accelerates the erosion of building foundations.

Air pollution, another concern frequently cited, is a problem that some industry officials have acknowledged.

And tourism itself has been cast as a kind of people pollution, as nearly 20 million visitors each year flood the city of 58,000 residents. Last year, about 1.7 million visitors arrived by ship.

The No Grandi Navi (No Big Ships) committee conducted its campaign against the cruise industry in classic European fashion. Where Key West held a referendum and Charleston went to court, No Grandi Navi held street protests, or in this case, canal protests.

Activists with bullhorns shouted insults at passing ships. They organized a small-boat blockade, and in September about 50 wetsuited protesters dove into the Giudecca Canal, bobbing around like seals and blocking the passage of a dozen cruise ships.

The tactics apparently swayed Italian officials, who on Nov. 5 issued an order that reduces the number of ships over 40,000 gross tons that can ply the Giudecca route by 20% and bans ships above 96,000 gross tons from the canal entirely by next November.

The industry publicly pledged cooperation. In a statement, CLIA Europe said it viewed the decision as a positive step by the Italian government to find a sustainable and long-term solution for the city. “This goal is shared by the cruise industry,” it said.

However, in the past, cruise lines have frequently responded to unfavorable local developments by redeploying ships. That happened in Alaska in 2006 after cruise opponents enacted a $46 head tax to slow the influx of passengers into small Alaska towns.

Cruise lines moved some ships elsewhere, citing reduced demand. In 2010, the tax was partly rolled back, laying the groundwork for a rebound.

A wall poster in Venice last summer advocated Big Ships Out of the Lagoon.There are alternatives to Venice in the Adriatic, said Filippo Olivetti, managing director of the Bassani Group, which provides cruise services and shore excursions in Venice.

“We know that several cruise lines are looking to Ravenna and Trieste [in northeastern Italy] as an option to homeport,” Olivetti said, adding that Pullmantur has successfully used Ravenna in the past.

The industry’s most powerful argument against limits on bigger ships is that they contribute revenue and jobs to the local economy. Olivetti said that studies commissioned by the Cruise Venice Committee, a group that supports the industry’s growth, estimate that 2,500 jobs will be lost as a result of the new limits.

He said the ban on ships larger than 96,000 gross tons would result in a 60% decline in passengers in 2015, to about 700,000, unless they are replaced by smaller ships or an alternative is found.

“My company is going to be very affected by this tonnage limit,” Olivetti said.

In Key West, too, there have been warnings that the cruise industry could go elsewhere if they have no chance to grow. A Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) report issued in November asserts that cruise lines now cannot count on putting modernized ships there and that if Cuba should open to cruise calls, the Florida port would lose business.

“It is not an exaggeration to say that, without capital investments, Key West’s future as a cruise port of call is seriously in question,” the report stated.

Benson said the report amounts to fear mongering, and he said that even as it is, the channel is adequate for all but a handful of ships.

The economic argument about cruise ships in Key West, as elsewhere, boils down to whether the infusion of cash and other benefits cruise passengers contribute to the local economy outweigh the costs.

Various sources cite daily spending by cruise guests of anywhere from $32 to $84, with the FDOT study citing a CLIA figure of $123.58. A $10.63-per-passenger docking fee also goes to the port and pier owners.

But 1.6 million guests who come to Key West by other means and stay overnight account for about $900 million of annual spending, according to visitors bureau estimates, compared with about $80 million for cruise guests.

Nearly 814,000 passengers arrived on some 330 ships last year. So while they account for more than a third of the visitors, they represent less than a tenth of the spending, a disparity that has the business community split over their desirability.

A banner by the No Grandi Navi committee.Shops, bars, scooter rental outlets, trolley tours and excursions near the piers tend to support the channel widening, while lodging owners and businesses off of the main drag on Duval Street tend to be opposed.

John Dolan-Heitlinger, a business consultant and head of the Key West Seaport Alliance, a pro-cruise group, said that as a small town, Key West can ill afford to give up tax revenue the cruise ships bring in.

“Everybody in town benefits from cruise ships in one way or another,” he said. “As that income is reduced, the city either has to eliminate services or find other sources of funding, typically taxes and fees.”

Rudy Molinet, owner of Marquis Properties Realty, one of the top residential brokerages in Key West, said that when several ships are docked at once, the 10-square-block historical district is overrun.

“There are people who directly benefit, but the people who run the bed-and-breakfast inns and the restaurants are not so for it,” he said.

With so much hanging in the balance on both sides, many attempts at compromise are arising.

One solution for historical cities that still want cruise tourism growth is to move the cruise piers to another part of town. A real estate expert in Charleston has proposed an embarkation terminal at the former Navy shipyard north of the historical district.

In Venice, planners are working on a scheme to dredge an alternate channel to the Venezia Terminal Passeggeri that would let big ships avoid the Giudecca Canal. At the same time, the mayor has suggested creating a new cruise ship dock at Marghara, an industrial port on the Italian mainland.

There are no such plans yet in Key West. As the cruise industry grows, some ports might not be able to grow in parallel, observed Benson, and he’s fine with that.

“We have no problem with the cruise lines that are coming in now,” he said. “We realize we’re at a sustainable level. If we try to go much beyond that, we’re going to see a backlash in other tourism-related events. We want to make sure we keep the balance.”

Follow Tom Stieghorst on Twitter @tstravelweekly.

Sink or Swim – Why is Carnival Cruise Lines exempt from city regulations?

Sink or Swim, taken from Charleston City Paper
contribution by Katie Zimmerman

The latest column from Charleston City Paper columnist Bryan Crabtree on cruise ships included suggestions in line with those put forth by numerous locals and organizations representing them, including the Coastal Conservation League.

Most people in Charleston seek a good balance whereby cruises can continue, but with standards in place to protect the health of local families and our environment as well as the strength of our economy, which relies greatly on protecting historic assets.

The drive to establish standards for cruise operations in historic cities is happening not just in Charleston. Venice, Italy, Key West, Fla., Dubrovnik, Croatia, and others are wrestling with the same concerns. Given the unprecedentedly large scale of the cruise ships and the thousands of people cruise operations bring into small, densely populated areas, it’s imperative that communities such as Charleston hasten to protect unique historic sites via enforceable standards for cruise ships, just as we support standards for other things, from tour buses to horse carriages.

It is beyond odd that cruise operations are seemingly the one business exempt from standards. This may reflect the cruise industry’s success in avoiding other rules and requirements. For example, Carnival Cruise Lines — which has had a cruise ship in operation in Charleston since 2010 — pays no taxes here and doesn’t even have a business license. Why should a highly profitable company like Carnival, which is incorporated in Panama, not have to abide by standards that apply to everyone else in Charleston?

Conservation groups, including the Coastal Conservation League, agree with Mr. Crabtree that Charleston cruise ships should use shore power to reduce the impact of concentrated diesel soot pollution on local families. Cruise ships do this in other ports even when the law doesn’t require it.

The League has also asked that records of cruise discharges be made available for public review. But when we asked Carnival if the company would consider notifying local citizens of what they are dumping in the water, a League representative was told that it was “frankly none of [our] business what Carnival does in [South Carolina’s] waterways.”

Neither the League nor anyone else is asking for limits on cargo ships since they don’t emit nearly as much pollution as a cruise ship, and they don’t bring thousands of cars and passengers into a gridlocked historic district. Like Mr. Crabtree, we support looking at alternative locations for a cruise terminal, an inquiry that so far has been stifled by the State Ports Authority.

People are tired of an all-or-nothing debate about cruise ships. They want solutions and options for achieving a healthy balance. The League has been pushing for those options for several years, but so far the proponents of unregulated cruise operations have acted as if engaging with loyal citizens is akin to dealing with terrorists.

So long as those pushing unmitigated cruise operations take an our-way-or-the-highway approach, Charlestonians — conservative and otherwise — will continue to feel frustrated and continue to ask that other options be explored.

Mr. Crabtree is to be applauded for proposing one option, and we stand ready to engage with him and any other interested persons in reaching a solution that works for everyone. As he should know, the question for our community is not the one he asked in conducting his informal poll on social media. On his Facebook page, he asked his followers if we should “allow the cruise industry to grow in Charleston or push them away?” The real question is whether or not cruise operations, like every other business here, should abide by limits and standards and find a healthy balance.

We applaud Mr. Crabtree’s call for examining alternative methods of basing very large cruise ships in the most congested and historic part of our entire region. There is no sense in polarizing people when most folks have coalesced around this reasonable middle ground.

Katie Zimmerman is the Coastal Conservation League’s director of the Air, Water, and Public Health Program. Her areas of expertise include environmental justice, community empowerment, and water quality.