The City Council – will it do the right thing?

The mayor has introduced an “Cruise Ship” ordinance that is nothing more than a ruse, a trick to deceive the public into believing that the City is proposing regulations on the $30 billion-a-year cruise ship tourism industry when it isn’t. The mayor is introducing an ordinance that merely mandates a mishmash of meaningless meetings.

These proposed year-long series of meetings are not binding, will lead to no conclusion, have no provisions for voting, have no provisions for binding arbitration, and do nothing to prevent the State Ports Authority from doing whatever it wants.

This worthless, deceptive ordinance to be discussed tonight should be withdrawn. The City Council should wait until the Historic Charleston Foundation survey is released, and then based on the information, impose necessary, meaningful and binding restrictions on the cruise ship tourism industry.

Sadly, Mayor Riley simply wants to give the appearance that the City is doing something to address the increasing opposition to unbridled, unregulated, uncontrolled cruise ship visits. But this ordinance, posted below (1), regulates nothing. The State Ports Authority agrees that this ordinance is worthless! The SPA is vehement about opposing any restrictions on “its business,” yet it doesn’t oppose this ordinance. The problem with passing today’s proposed ordinance–it will give the unwary the impression that the City is doing something about unregulated cruise ship visits, size of ships, pollution from ships, etc.– when it’s doing nothing of the sort.

This is irresponsible government at its worst.

There is one silver lining. The City has long maintained that it DOES NOT have the POWER to regulate cruise ships or tourists coming from those cruise ships. But now, by introducing an ordinance that purportedly regulates cruise ships, it has exposed that fiction. The City can and must regulate, but this hollow ordinance must be withdrawn or defeated.


This week’s Charleston News Alternative cruise ship article parallels our last blog, concluding “It seems that the critics of Charleston’s cruise ship plans suffer one objection after the other. Just when they think the City and SPA have gone far enough, here comes another offensive measure.” “Offensive” is an understatement.

Then Steve Gates takes on the thankless task of explaining why the lawsuit filed against Carnival Cruise Lines on behalf of various neighborhood associations, civic and environmental organizations was necessary. Of course, it was necessary and still is. Read his letter, “Not Demons,” in today’s Post and Courier through to the last sentences: “It is unthinkable that the city is powerless to impose regulations on a large industry setting up a base of operations in the middle of town. Charleston has carefully managed tourism in the past and should want to have authority over cruise tourism. Rather than engage in overblown rhetoric or empty ordinances such as the one proposed for City Council’s consideration today, the merits of the lawsuit should be addressed and resolved civilly.” Exactly.

And then there’s Katherine (Kitty) Robinson’s op-ed in Sunday’s paper, wherein she carefully lays out useful regulations on cruise ship tourism. The City Council would be advised to read this, but probably hasn’t; in fact, of course, this is the kind of ordinance that it should be voting on, but isn’t. Were I to object to Ms. Robinson’s article, I would only to the extent that the SPA should be forced–as part of its fiduciary responsibility–to carefully research other sites, such as Columbus Street, Patriot’s Point and North Charleston, for a cruise ship terminal. There is no evidence that cruise ship terminals co-exist well with historic neighborhoods, yet there is a ton of evidence that cruise terminals are damaging to historic areas worldwide. And there is also evidence that the state and the city would do better financially if the terminal were moved from Union Pier, and that more jobs would be created if it were moved.

Finally, if you need still more ammunition that the City is on the wrong track with this proposed ordinance, read Sunday’s P&C editorial, “City Council Should Opt for Stronger Cruise Ship Rules.” It calls the ordinance “more sop than substance.” It’s all sop, no substance, in our view.


1) Cruise ship “ordinance”

The Fog Machine

Buffeted by increasing controversy over its cruise terminal plan at Union Pier, the State Ports Authority (SPA), the BAR and the mayor have cranked up the fog machine. The goal is to hide this flawed plan and make it appear as if your non-representative government agencies are being representative.

When we fight our way through the fog, nothing has changed for the better. In a small way, with large letters, it may have gotten worse. If you want something good to happen, you will have to call your legislative representative and city council member straightaway. We have appended a list of city council members and their email addresses below for your convenience.(1)

Least important and less surprisingly, the “modernist” BAR approved the “wart on the water” that the SPA wants you to believe is a cruise terminal building that is “representative of Charleston.” In a previous blog, we showed the “artist rendition” of what this old warehouse will look like: A new warehouse.(2) The editor of the Charleston News Alternative likened the structure to a Wal-Mart. Making that analogy more complete, it’s to be surrounded by nine acres of asphalt parking lots. So what did the BAR suggest? The geniuses there suggested that we put “large free-standing letters” on the top of the warehouse, facing the water, that say “Welcome to Charleston.” Is “Hollywood”-like lettering also “representative of Charleston”? Even the Post and Courier was bemused, and in a tongue-in-cheek thrashing of the idea said, “And given Charleston’s reputation for hospitality, visitors should be welcome no matter when they arrive. The letters must be properly illuminated…. “And it is important to remember that Charleston is a living city, not a stagnant museum. The sign should come to life by flashing on and off throughout the night.”(3)

But when it comes to pronouncements, our mayor is not to be outdone. He turned on the fog machine, pretended to pivot on the issue of the city’s inability to limit cruise ships, and introduced his own “ordinance.” Contending that he didn’t believe cruise ship visits would rise, this time Mayor Riley told the City Council, “I do think it is well to have in the city code the formal outline of the process that the city would follow should the Ports Authority seek a change.”(4) That’s great news, right? No it isn’t, because the ordinance is not only meaningless, it is essentially a copy of the SPA’s old April 21st letter of promises without commitments. It’s fog feigning action.

How sure are we of our position? First, please read the ordinance for yourself–you will see there are no teeth in it. It’s an ordinance to agree to discuss. It’s not an ordinance that controls or limits anything.(5)

Secondly, there’s proof it’s meaningless. In an SPA email sent yesterday (5), its president and CEO Jim Newsome affirmed that it’s “Cruise Management Plan” (“104 ships a year,” “on a scale appropriate for Charleston,” etc.) is only “voluntary.” He then holds out a carrot for the unwary, “The [mayor’s proposed] ordinance spells out a process for the City’s actions and is consistent with the same community involvement process that the Ports Authority has committed to undertake. As such, we are not opposing this ordinance.” Yet the very next sentence confirms the worthlessness of Mayor Riley’s proposed ordinance: “However, we have consistently opposed any attempt to limit our maritime commerce mandate under South Carolina law. Any such action would present unacceptable and illegal limits on port business when our state desperately needs jobs, spending and investment.” They oppose any regulation but will sign on to the ordinance.

Simply, Jim Newsome and the SPA have agreed to the Mayor’s proposed ordinance because it doesn’t put any limits on the size of ships, number of visits, number of passengers, amount of pollution or limit the SPA’s future intents in any way. This ordinance merely mandates a year-long mishmash of meaningless meetings (didn’t we just go through that?) before the SPA will be able to roll over concerned citizens, businesses, and city officials and “alter” its “Cruise Management Plan” at will. In fact, this is a regurgitation of the SPA’s its own letter designed to fog over its future intentions that the mayor co-opted then cut and paste into an Ordinance. Please, Mayor Riley, turn off the fog machine and withdraw this worthless “ordinance.” Write one with teeth in it–and do it now.


1) List of City Council Members and contact information:

Councilmember Gary White | | 364-1876
Councilmember Kathleen Wilson | | (843) 795-7507
Councilmember Tim Mallard | | (843) 270-5618
Councilmember Aubry Alexander | | (843) 723-7150
Councilmember Blake Hallman |
Councilmember Mike Seekings |
Councilmember Dudley Gregorie | | (843) 720-1232
Councilmember Jimmy Gallant |
Councilmember Robert Mitchell | | Home Phone: (843) 853-2057 | Pager: (843) 937-7663
Councilmember James Lewis | | 219-8018
Councilmember Louis Waring | | (843) 763-5388
Councilmember Dean Riegel |

2) Artist rendering of SPA cruise terminal structure

3) P&C Editorial, “Sign of BAR Times”

4) P&C – “Charleston to Propose Cruise Controls”

5) Proposed city ordinance on Cruise Controls

6) SPA email from Jim Newsome – 12 Aug 11

The Problem with Ridiculous Letters to the Editor

Good morning,

The “pro-cruise ship letter of the day” campaign continues in the Post and Courier.

So what did today’s paper give us?

Big ships

Looking at the photograph of the 109,000-ton container ship Bruxelles raises the question:

Is this a more appealing sight than a 70,000-ton cruise ship?

Harriet Little
Joyce Lane

Aside from the observation that most of the cruise ship proponent’s letters seem to be coming from everywhere but where the problems are, could this letter be more off point? As we noted two weeks ago, the MSC Bruxelles went, at high tide, under the Ravenel Bridge to the Wando Welch terminal. Cargo ships regularly visit Charleston, and no one on either side of the cruise ship controversy has any issue with cargo or container ships. Yet we still have the SPA and its PR firm ginning up the freight shippers and the ILA with the fiction that opponents of the SPA’s bad plan for a cruise terminal at Union Pier are also somehow opposed to cargo and container ships. Nonsense.

What’s the difference? Well, quite unlike cargo ships, cruise ships like the Carnival Fantasy have 3,000 passengers and crew who are routinely disgorged on the streets of Charleston’s historic peninsula; cruise ships dock at the edge of downtown and spew low-grade diesel fuel over neighborhoods, businesses, and tourists alike as they must maintain full ship operations while in port; cruise ships sound horns, use PA systems, and make other noise in addition to detracting, visually, from the historic skyline and Colonial-era charm of this historic city; cruise ship passengers, embarking and debarking, create vehicular congestion, requiring roads to be closed or blocked, in addition to creating pedestrian congestion especially at intersections; cruise ship passengers put an increased traffic strain on businesses and residences downtown and in the historic district when neither has the facilities or space for unbridled, unregulated tourism.

No, Ms. Little. Opponents only oppose the flawed SPA plan to permanently damage Union Pier from becoming an real asset as a “mixed use” development for the city. Opponents oppose an SPA that is unwilling to even consider alternate sites for a cruise terminal to another location that would not block off and blemish downtown waterfront land with an 1800 foot pier and cruise ships. Opponents oppose an SPA that refuses to put its “voluntary limits” for cruise ships in legally enforceable language in order to preclude the possibility of unbridled tourism overwhelming the city in the future. But, Opponents of the deeply flawed SPA ideas are NOT OPPOSED to cargo ships, container ships or the Yorktown being in the harbor.

What reasonable people in this city want is for the city administration to wake up and demand that the SPA put the same restraint and regulations on cruise ship tourism that is consistent with similar restraints and regulations that exist for all other tourism in this town.

But people who live in Summerville probably couldn’t care less about what goes on in Charleston. One can only wonder, then, if the SPA’s expensive PR firm is writing stuff for them to send in to the paper. When letter writers continuously and falsely asserts that opposition to cruise ships means opposition to all shipping, one has to wonder who or what is behind such a deceptive campaign.