Charleston residents battling the cruise ship industry say Carnival Cruise Lines’ plans to have another cruise ship depart from here next year is proof that their fight is a necessary one.
“I think we knew it was coming,” said Carrie Agnew, executive director of the Charleston Communities for Cruise Control, which has bought billboards and pursued legal action to torpedo the cruise industry’s growth here.
The addition of the Carnival Sunshine and its 3,000 potential passengers has reinforced Cruise Control’s message and already added to its mailing list, Agnew said.
“There are those who just don’t see the big picture and say, ‘Everything is fine now. Why should we be concerned?’ ” Agnew said. “So many people also have said, ‘Charleston is at a tipping point.’ I stood up at a meeting and said, ‘We’re not at a tipping point. We’ve tipped over,’ and now we’re adding more fuel to the fire.”
The Sunshine will offer cruises of between two and 10 days between Charleston and ports in the Bahamas, St. Thomas, Antigua, Martinique, St. Kitts and San Juan.
State Ports Authority director Jim Newsome said the port will maintain its level of fewer than 104 cruise ship departures next year.
One of the biggest issues in Charleston’s yearslong cruise ship fight is fear that the city eventually will be overrun by larger ships carrying ever more passengers and calling on the city more often.
City and State Ports Authority officials say those concerns are unfounded, and they have agreed to limit cruise ships to no more than an average of two calls here a week, and no more than one at a time. Opponents want those voluntarily limits written into a law.
Cruise ship supporters have said the industry is an important part of the Lowcountry’s larger tourism economy, a source of jobs and a continuation of an activity that this port city has had from its earliest days.
Opponents said they don’t want to ban all cruise ships, but they want the authority to consider sites other than Union Pier, and sites farther from the city’s historic district, for its new cruise ship terminal. Legal wrangling over that site — the 60 acres between Market, Washington and Laurens streets and the harbor — has slowed the state’s plans to redevelop the blighted area.
Cruise opponents also said not enough is being done to address traffic congestion caused by ship visits, air pollution from smokestacks, noise from ship horns and public address systems, and the visual impact on the city’s historic skyline. They have filed legal challenges in both state and federal courts.
Blan Holman, managing attorney for the Charleston office of the Southern Environmental Law Center and a lawyer for the cruise ship opponents, said the news of the Sunshine’s visits here next year shows the cruise industry can get bigger in Charleston.
“And that just makes thorough review of a new, larger terminal more important than ever to make sure we examine all options for reducing pollution and traffic and impacts on families and neighborhoods,” he said.
Randy Pelzer, head of the Charles Towne Neighborhood’s cruise ship task force, said news of the Sunshine’s arrival doesn’t mean much in terms of current legal battles, “but I think it points out that residents aren’t consulted in terms of the larger number of cruise ships that impact them.”
“I was surprised there wasn’t any effort to notify the residents ahead of time, that we found out about it after it was a done deal,” he added, “but that’s the way it has been from the beginning.”
Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.
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