The SPA’s “Defiant”

The SPA’s “Defiant” is headed into heavy seas. Yet the SPA ship is staying the course–the we’re going to do what we want, with no limits, no compromise, and we’ll-put-an-ugly-building-downtown-anyway course. Will these rougher waters cause the “Defiant’s” top officers to rethink her direction? Ah, no. Let’s look at one example.

The Post and Courier’s Robert Behre reported “At least seven other U.S. ports provide some electrical connection for cruise ships to plug into while in port, leading to cleaner air –at least in the area immediately around the docks.”(1) So what about Charleston? “But no such shore power is in the works here as the State Ports Authority plans to build a new $30 million cruise ship passenger terminal.” Nope. And that’s in spite of the fact that cruise lines burn low grade diesel fuel, fuel that is so dirty with dangerous pollutants, that it isn’t permitted to be burned on land in the U.S. And unlike a cargo ship, cruise ships burn this dirty fuel the entire time they are in port as it’s necessary to constantly power the ship’s restaurants, spas, shops, bars, air conditioning and lighting. Even Brooklyn requires shore side plug in power!

So wouldn’t pollution free, shoreside plug-in power be a good idea, at the very least for the Carnival “Fantasy,” the cruise ship that is home-ported downtown? SPA spokesman Byron Miller has that answer: “It’s a nice bumper sticker, but from a practical standpoint, it’s simply not required or justifiable,” he [Miller] said. “Maybe if the Conservation League wants to subsidize it, we can make it happen.” We could be wrong, but did the “Conservation League” issue $177 million in bonds as the SPA has? Or did the “Conservation League” make the same $200 million in the last quarter that Carnival Cruise Lines made? Oh, and did you notice Miller’s comment that “it’s simply not required.” But our mayor says, “these are our people, for crying out loud!” His people, maybe, but not “our people.”

Meanwhile, the SPA’s “Defiant” is running at full-speed, driving through the waves, blazing her guns whenever challenged to smoke over the issues and frighten the timid.

But those seas are beginning to boil and churn as the SPA’s “Defiant” sails farther from its supply lines, and some of its crew appear to be jumping off. Senator Robert Ford challenged the SPA openly in the P&C and called for moving the cruise terminal away from downtown and up to the Columbus Street Terminal (2) before clambering back, all after virtually calling it a rogue agency. Then came Senator Chip Campsen, who comes from a maritime family, saying responsible things like, “this doesn’t mean all other considerations must bow before the port” and “economic development and quality of life are not mutually exclusive. Properly balanced, they are synergistic.” Campsen warns, “look no farther than the industrial Midwest and Northeast, where quality of life was often sacrificed on the altar of economic development” before he notes the decline in fortunes for many cities and towns in the North because people are coming to places that “balance economic development and quality of life” like Charleston.(3) Sen. Campsen recommends that “the feasibility of utilizing part of the Columbus Street Terminal for cruise ships should be studied. This would spur redevelopment on Morrison Drive, mollify cruise ship traffic problems, and free more of Union Pier for redevelopment.” And “as long a Union Pier is utilized for cruise ships, something akin to the Historic Charleston Foundation’s proposed ordinance should become binding upon the Port. This should be doable since all parties publicly support a 104 cruise per year limit…” Can these limits become legally binding? Campsen says, “S.C. Code §6-29-770(A) empowers Charleston to address the matter through zoning. And it certainly can be accomplished by contract or legislation.”

Then in today’s Post and Courier, Sen. Chip Limehouse hailed the SPA’s “Defiant”: “As a member of the Charleston Legislative Delegation I would like to urge the South Carolina State Ports Authority to explore the possibility of alternative locations for the new cruise terminal. Several options exist and should be reviewed, such as utilizing Patriot Point’s campus, where a water taxi system could take guests off the roads and instead transport them via the Charleston Harbor.” This was also the theme in a recent article by historian/author Jack Bass.(4) Sen. Limehouse also uncovered another secret that neither the SPA nor the mayor want you to know, “From conversations with merchants it appears that spending associated with cruise passengers is too modest to justify the negative impact on downtown residents and businesses,” and cites “the constant congestion” and “problems caused by bringing passengers to crowded downtown areas to board cruise ships.”(5)

Today’s Post and Courier editorialized about tonight’s important City Council meeting, calling the pending ordinance “inadequate.” The paper suggests adopting the Historic Charleston Foundation’s recommendations for cruise ship controls adding, “Without the city’s beauty, charm and culture, the city’s main industry — tourism — would be compromised. And Charleston residents’ quality of life would be diminished.”(6)

But this writer has a larger concern. The mayor and SPA’s “Defiant’s” defiance have successfully disregarded all attempts at regulation. And no matter what regulations are passed, or by whom, couldn’t they be changed? Of course. A $30-billion-a-year cruise ship industry can lobby for whatever it wants. Even now, the SPA “Defiant” has been riding the waves, blazing its guns, blasting critics, and avoiding restraints as if it were sailing in international waters, not operating on land in Charleston. So how can “regulations” alone protect Charleston? They cannot. That’s why the cruise ship terminal MUST be moved to Columbus Street, Patriots Point, or North Charleston. With the terminal farther from downtown, if or when those cruise ship limits are broken 20 years from now, the “golden goose” of tourism and prosperity, centered in our charming downtown and fragile historic district, won’t be destroyed. Charleston does not need another long dark economic chapter in its history–certainly not one that would be self-inflicted.

As Chip Limehouse said, “the sale of the entire 70 acres constituting the Union Pier Terminal could generate twice the jobs and future tax revenue as the existing plan to develop one-half of that property. At the same time, it would provide more public access to the waterfront. Many of our citizens are asking that we sit down and look at the preferable alternatives that currently exist before taking a rigid stance one way or the other. I ask that SPA and our city administrators take the necessary time to re-evaluate all options before making a decision that will affect generations to come.” You should ask for the same tonight.


About tonight. Harold Pratt-Thomas, a board member of the Charleston Communities for Cruise Control, C4, plans to speak at tonight’s City Council Meeting. Without his permission, I am going to publish something similar to what he may say because I believe it’s what I would say:

I am Harold Pratt-Thomas, and I am a board member of the Charleston Communities for Cruise Control.

We would like to thank Mayor Riley for tackling the problems of cruise ship tourism with an ordinance, an ordinance that acknowledges the SPA’s “voluntary limits” on the size and number of visits of cruise ships in Charleston and attempts to put a plan in place to notify the public of any changes in these limits. But this ordinance has no teeth and does not limit cruise ship tourism in any way.

Thus we must agree with the Post and Courier, the Historic Charleston Foundation, the Preservation Society, the Charleston Mercury and others that this ordinance is both ineffective and inadequate. It isn’t what the businesses and residents of Charleston, Mayor Riley and the City Council’s own constituents, need. All of us are impacted by the disgorging of cruise ship tourists so close to downtown and the historic district. Most importantly, given the increasing size of cruise ships envisioned by the widening of the Panama Canal, protecting Charleston’s historic fabric and ambiance–our “golden goose” and the biggest draw for tourism and tourism dollars, is threatened.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation–sensing these same critical issues and projecting this reality into the future–has placed Charleston on its “Watch List,” a new, unfortunate designation we must remedy.

We need four things: 1) Table this ineffective ordinance tonight. 2) In its place, we must put legally binding limits on cruise ship tourism in line with those proposed by the Historic Charleston Foundation. 3) Mandate Shore side plug-in power at the terminal–it is already used by the U.S. Navy and by Carnival ships in other ports to protect against dangerous ship diesel emissions and soot. And, 4) the City should ask the Legislature to conduct the required study of other locations for a cruise ship terminal, especially the Columbus Street Terminal. A cruise terminal does not have to be nor should it be in historic downtown, an area constricted geographically, already congested, and with limited resources for tourism (few bathrooms, etc.) These four items are reasonable, rational, and necessary now. Let’s get this done.

Footnotes and links to articles:

1) Cruise Foes, Port in Power Struggle – Robt. Behre

2) Cruise to Prosperity on the East Side – Sen. Ford

3) SPA must weigh cruises’ impacts – Sen. Campsen

4) Cruise Solution: Patriot’s Point – Jack Bass

5) Evaluate All Cruise Terminal Options – Sen. Limehouse

6) Get City off “Watch List” – P&C editorial

Senator Ford Reverses

Good afternoon,

Senator Ford has reversed his position (1). But, why?

In a thoughtful, well-reasoned Post and Courier commentary just last week, Sen. Robert Ford highlighted the many benefits of moving cruise ship operations from Union Pier up to the larger Columbus Street terminal. Such a move would take traffic off East Bay Street, would economically benefit the East Side, would provide more jobs if Union Pier privately developed, would retain all the port jobs, would reduce impacts on the historic district, etc. In addition, the 155-acre Columbus Street terminal will provide more parking and more of a geographic shield to neighboring areas from negative impacts than the smaller 65-acre Union Pier site would be able to shield downtown and Ansonborough. We and others praised the suggestion, and if you have not read his op-ed, you must (2).

Now Sen. Ford has made a U turn: “Constituents read me the riot act.” Really? If his constituents did protest, what horrible slate of evils were they told or sold to make them so negative? Who told them? What problems with a cruise terminal at Columbus Street are there that could cause such a quick, negative reaction, a reaction so powerful as to force Sen. Ford to reverse his well-ascribed suggestion? Or was it something else?

Consider this. Whoever put such intense pressure on Sen. Ford cannot pretend that whatever problems that might arise at Columbus Street won’t also exist at Union Pier–a site where we’re told by the SPA and the City that has no problems. But if it’s not good for the East Side, how can it be good for downtown and Ansonborough?

Is there more in play than meets the eye? While the responses and reactions to Sen. Ford’s original article were almost all positive, the operative word here is “almost.” Take this letter, from Jim Newsome of the State Ports Authority, fired off to Sen. Ford immediately after his original commentary was published. Don’t just read the content, note the tone of this letter.

If you were a state employee, as is Newsome, would you have written that letter to a state senator?

Ford reacted, “He was completely out of order. I think Mr. Newsome needs to learn that he needs to respect all members of the General Assembly.” Newsome replied to the Post and Courier, “If he took offense, I certainly apologize.” But what recipient of such a letter could not be offended?(3) Does Mr. Newsome believe he’s invulnerable?

The SPA and the City can’t have it both ways. If the cruise terminal does provide an economic benefit, as its proponents claim, that benefit is far more needed on the East Side. Then when do we have the discussion–the one about the best cruise terminal location–the one that was never held or studied by the SPA, as is required by law (as Sen. Ford had pointed out)? Nothing should happen at Union Pier until, at the SPA’s expense, an independent firm selected by the legislature conducts a full, transparent study of all potential cruise ship terminal locations.


1) Sen. Ford’s statement, “A Change of Heart”

2) Cruise toward Prosperity on the East Side – Sen. Robt. Ford

3) Sen. Ford Reverses on Cruise Terminal – David Slade

(even in a new Age of Reason) Not all are Reasonable

“Prior to this year’s rebound, SPA container volume had declined each year for five years.”  SC Ports Authority President & CEO James “Newsome, whose salary is $300,000, will get a $61,000 bonus.” Post and Courier, 17 Aug 2011(1)

Good afternoon,

Reactions to Senator Robert Ford’s Post and Courier commentary on the growth of the cruise ship industry in Charleston were positive and thoughtful. The senator’s presentation of the facts and his proposed solutions stand as an impressive benchmark in the dialogue. The need for balance is clear: How can Charleston best handle the growth of tourism from ever-larger cruise ships, protect port and cruise industry jobs, and continue to preserve and protect our city’s fragile historic fabric, community and quality of life that is the main draw for this tourism? Senator Ford’s suggestions do that, and more.

Unfortunately, none of the reactions from the SC Ports Authority were were positive or thoughtful. The same tiresome stonewalling, delivered in ringside bravado, continues.

Senator Ford, after following the cruise ship discussion, noting the traffic and congestion, and with his concern about more government expansion south of Calhoun Street said, “I have taken many cruises myself. I know that cruise terminals are not located in residential areas, but away from such areas where their negative impacts are felt less by residents. I support moving the proposed new cruise terminal to the northern end of the Columbus Street Terminal near the Ravenel Bridge. There is ample space there and a warehouse as suitable for a cruise terminal as the one proposed at Union Pier.” He makes other important observations: “Such a relocation of the planned cruise terminal should end the current litigation and prevent future complaints from residents and preservation groups,” and adds, “Indeed, cruise operations could expand at that location without impacting residents and businesses. Longshoremen and other maritime jobs would be better protected and indeed could increase beyond the voluntary limits on cruise activity imposed by the SPA at Union Pier.”

Ford notes that a cruise entrance off Morrison Drive would be an “incentive for economic development,” highlights the benefits of private development that could then occur at Union Pier (which would produce hundreds more permanent jobs), and underlines the vast amount of public dock and space that could be created at Union Pier were the cruise terminal moved north. There is more to this cogent commentary that you should read for yourself(2), link below.

The SPA’s reaction? In a personal letter to Senator Ford, dated August 26, President and CEO James Newsome wrote, “…I read your op-ed in the Post and Courier yesterday which seems to reflect your strident opposition to our cruise terminal project (over 400 according to an independent survey). With respect, I frankly find this both disappointing and confusing.” And then, in the next paragraph, Mr. Newsome shows his total lack of respect: “Accordingly, I assume that the requested meeting on Sept. 7 is no longer necessary and will remove it from my calendar. Please notify my office if you would still like to meet.”(6) Setting aside the arrogance, Mr. Newsome knows that the number of port jobs would not change, and would likely increase, if the cruise terminal were moved up to Columbus Street or other location. But focusing on facts is not one of Mr. Newsome’s strong points. Perhaps he was reacting to another salient item in Mr. Ford’s commentary:

“I was astonished to learn that SPA officials told experts employed to site the new cruise terminal to look only at Union Pier. The experts did not even consider the alternative location at the northern end of Columbus Street Terminal. SPA officials have obviously failed to address the negative impacts on local residents despite being required to do so by state law. The legitimate concerns of local residents should be the top priority of the SPA Board, not rubber-stamping efforts by SPA officials to hold onto their real estate holdings in Charleston.”(2)

Moving to a somewhat related matter, citizens concerned about the City’s cavalier attitude to ignore cruise ship expansion have formed C4–the Charleston Communities for Cruise Control. Few had heard of this non-profit organization until it placed a large billboard on I-26 East (below) this week. The board was noticed, and it resulted in a TV coverage on Channel 2 and Channel 4.(3) And what was the SPA’s reaction to the billboard?

SPA spokesman Byron Miller responded with predictably diversionary rhetoric, “This is certainly not southern hospitality. It sends a nasty message to visiting tourists and business people looking to spend money and create jobs in Charleston. It paints Charleston as unfriendly to visitors and business. To tell people coming down 26 this is an anti-business and anti-tourist place is not Charleston…” But C4’s goals are not terribly dissimilar to other responsible community organizations like the Preservation Society or the Historic Charleston Foundation; in fact, C4’s goals are in almost perfect alignment with those of Senator Ford’s. Reasonable but enforceable limits on cruise ship visits (the same as the “voluntary limits” proposed by the SPA itself), shoreside plug-in power to limit pollution, and moving the cruise terminal to Columbus Street to allow for more tourists yet with fewer impacts downtown and in the historic district. [full disclosure: this writer is on the board of C4; however, this blog is entirely independent of any organization, and nothing said here should be considered as representative of the position(s) of C4 or any of its other members.](4)

Commenting from farther South, and published in the Post and Courier, Historic Savannah Foundation’s president Daniel Carey wrote, “Each year, Charleston and Savannah absorb millions of visitors while trying to maintain a delicate balance for those who live in and steward our historic districts. Unregulated cruise ships disgorging thousands of visitors (and effluent) tips that balance and jeopardizes the humane and urbane quality of life that makes our historic cities so envied.” Carey continued, “So when professionals and volunteers of these organizations do their homework and put forth reasonable measures to limit negative impacts to our fragile historic cities so they can retain their integrity, charm and character, I am dismayed when those recommendations are dismissed with such disdain. Above all, Mayor Riley (‘the best preservation mayor in the country’) should understand and support that cruise ships — like any other tour related enterprise — need regulation from local interests.” He concludes, “Savannah has learned a lot from Charleston. But if bowing to cruise ships goes unchecked, then that’s a lesson we should ignore.”(5)

Yet to protect Charleston’s future, win-win solutions to manage cruise ship growth must be found, and that will require dialogue with key players. Please encourage Sen. Robert Ford and other legislators to rein in the SPA. To have this dialogue, it must be remade into a responsible state agency that’s responsive to legitimate public concerns. That’s not the case now. –Jay

1) Container Traffic, Port Revenues Up

2) Cruise Toward Prosperity on the East Side – Sen. Robt. Ford

3) Cruise Control? Port Authority Officials say billboard is bad for business. Channel 4 video

4) Charleston Committee for Cruise Control website link

5) “Listen to Cruise Ship Critics”

6) Letter from James Newsome III to Sen. Robert Ford

A new Age of Reason?

Good afternoon,

A new era of reason may be dawning in Charleston. In a must-read column in today’s Post and Courier, Senator Robert Ford cuts through animus of the “my way or the highway” diatribes from SPA and City officials, and points the way for cruise ships to co-exist with Charleston’s history and energize its future development.

In “Cruise toward prosperity on the East Side,” Ford begins with a truism that neither the SPA nor Mayor Riley will admit: “I have taken many cruises myself. I know that cruise terminals are not located in residential areas, but away from such areas where their negative impacts are felt less by residents.” Not only does Ford favor moving cruise ship operations to the underused Columbus Street Terminal, where there “is ample space there and a warehouse as suitable for a cruise terminal as the one proposed at Union Pier,” but adds a point of significance: “Indeed, cruise operations could expand at that location without impacting residents and businesses. Longshoremen and other maritime jobs would be better protected and indeed could increase beyond the voluntary limits on cruise activity imposed by the SPA at Union Pier.”

Ford points the huge economic benefits the Columbus Street terminal could provide to the East Side, the incentive for development that could be created by a port entrance off Morrison Drive, the additional jobs, and the economic advantages that would accrue to state, county and local government by selling all of Union Pier for development. Sen. Ford is suggesting a win-win-win solution that would also reduce negative impacts of cruise ship tourism on downtown, safeguarding the Colonial-era buildings, homes and gardens that, together, provide the biggest draw for tourism in Charleston.

But then Sen. Ford turns a bright spotlight on SPA officials:

“I was astonished to learn that SPA officials told experts employed to site the new cruise terminal to look only at Union Pier. The experts did not even consider the alternative location at the northern end of Columbus Street Terminal. SPA officials have obviously failed to address the negative impacts on local residents despite being required to do so by state law. The legitimate concerns of local residents should be the top priority of the SPA Board, not rubber-stamping efforts by SPA officials to hold onto their real estate holdings in Charleston.” [emphasis added]

He also points out the unseemly trick devised SPA officials and their phony letter writers:
“The chairman of the SPA, in an op-ed piece in The Post and Courier, has tried to mislead the public and Legislature into believing that local residents are trying to end all cruise operations; he even stated that residents are trying to stop cargo operations. His job is not to vilify and demonize local citizens voicing legitimate concerns and suggesting reasonable alternatives. I am sure that he would object, too, if a cruise terminal were proposed for his neighborhood, although he is safe from that danger in his hometown of Columbia.” Do not miss reading, and distributing, Sen. Ford’s column.

Senator Ford’s column comes two days after a press notice was sent out by the S.C. Ports Authority. The release announces that the SPA and City have joined to ask the state supreme court to rule on the lawsuit filed against Carnival, then takes the specious leap that the lawsuit “…could also bar other commercial ships docking in the City, such as those carrying BMWs, power generation equipment, and other products shipped by major employers and industries across the State.” It then quotes the petition, “‘By casting a pall on the legality of any vessel calling on any port in this State, the lawsuit chills the [Ports Authority’s] ability to recruit, promote and encourage maritime commerce’ and fulfill its state mandate, according to the petition for original jurisdiction.”(1) One can only wonder if the state supreme court will fall for the notion that the suit against Carnival to regulate Cruise Ship Tourism, to regulate the belching of continuous soot from engines required to power spas, pools, restaurants, cabins, etc. while in port, or regulate the impacts of the random disgorging of 5,000 passengers and crew from each vessel, could be the equivalent of regulating cargo ships, especially cargo ships that mostly go under the Ravenel Bridge away from the City.

We will soon see how blind justice is. But we already see that Senator Ford wasn’t wrong when he says that the SPA “has tried to mislead the public and the Legislature into believing that local residents are trying to end all cruise operations…[and] are trying to stop cargo operations.”

At the end of the day, knowing that rules can be changed and limits can be lifted, the only real win-win solution will to move the cruise terminal to Columbus Street or other location besides Union Pier downtown. Congratulations to Sen. Ford for pointing that out.

Oh, yes, there is one other item in the P&C you may want to read, a letter from a woman who recently visited Venice, a port and historic city where cruise ship tourism has begun to destroy both Venice’s past and its future.(2)

Can one pray for an age of reason? Yes. –Jay

1) Port and City ask Supreme Court to Cruise Lawsuit

2) “Slaves to Tourism”

The Mayor’s Fiction

Good afternoon,

The first sentence of an excellent Post and Courier editorial exposes the mayor’s fiction that the City does not have the power to regulate cruise ships. “Though inconsequential in substance, Charleston City Council’s new cruise ship ordinance does finally acknowledge that the city has some regulatory authority over the State Ports Authority.” Noting that the Historic Charleston Foundation “has researched the issue and concluded that the city has the legal authority to apply zoning regulations to land-based cruise ship operations in its historic districts,” and has presented a meaningful plan to regulate ships, the editorial recommends, “[the City] Council should pursue more meaningful cruise ship rules by further considering the stronger comprehensive plan submitted by the Historic Charleston Foundation.”(1)

Sunday’s P&C editorial cogently laid out the issue for Charleston: “The port of Charleston is essential to the economic health of the state, and especially to the Lowcountry. Cruise ships are a viable part of their work. But City Council should be willing to ensure that cruise ship operations don’t tip the delicate balance between commerce and livability downtown.”(2) That balance is exactly what the Preservation Society, HANA, the Charlestowne Neighborhood Assn., the Coastal Conservation League, the Southern Environmental Law Center, the Historic Charleston Foundation, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Charleston Mercury, the Post and Courier, the Charleston News Alternative, this blog and dozens of other organizations, businesses and citizens want. Hardly an unreasonable request.

Yet Mayor Riley remains defiant, defensive, and tone-deaf to these public concerns. In a 23-minute harangue at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Riley opposed any limits on cruise ships saying, “They’re [the State Ports Authority] people of their word, for crying out loud. They’re not some alien force. They’re our people. They’re our partners.”(3) Randy Pelzer, on the cruise committee of the Charlestowne Neighborhood Association, called the mayor’s ordinance “a sham” [be sure to read his one-paragraph take on the meeting, posted below]. Yet at the end, Riley had browbeat the Council to approve his vacuous ordinance 8-5. The good news–more City Council members stood up for the City against the mayor and voted “no.” Those members, Blake Hallman, Jimmy Gallant, William Dudley Gregorie, Michael Seekings and Tim Mallard should be congratulated.

Let’s pretend, for a second, that the SPA people are “our people.” Does Mayor Riley think that they and he are immortal? That nothing can change? That the future will be the same as the past? And while it’s apparent that he is not listening to many people in Charleston, it’s also apparent he is not listening to the people of the SPA who repeatedly say, “we have consistently opposed any attempt to limit our maritime commerce mandate… Any such action would present unacceptable and illegal limits on port business.”(4) That’s a pretty clear in-your-face statement to me, Mr. Mayor. So, are you listening to anyone?

A Charleston News Alternative editorial, “Just Because They Can,” cited the lack of SPA and City attention to public concerns throughout the entire cruise terminal process, and concluded, “No matter where you live in Charleston, if you are on the side of principle, you should heed the plan’s critics. If economics is your interest, it would behoove you to notice that the city is much better off than most, and that is because of the tourist industry—one that was here before the cruise ships and will continue to thrive without them. If politics is your concern, you should be worried when your leaders don’t listen and public input is worthless.” (5)

City Council Meeting Highlights, Tuesday 16 Aug 2011:

“Mayor Riley dominates the City Council and had carefully coordinated with a variety of chamber of commerce types to urge passage of the ordinance. All of them stressed that no amendment should be allowed in anticipation of Councilman Gregory’s efforts to table the ordinance and consider the Historic Charleston Foundation proposed ordinance. On the positive side, the Mayor by proposing his ordinance implicitly recognizes some power to regulate cruise activity, and five councilmen came out for the first time in opposition to immediate approval of his ordinance. Also, the Historic Charleston Foundation, for the first time, publicly aligned itself with our position on limits on cruise visits with a thorough ordinance backed, I understand, by an expensive legal study concluding that the city does have the power to regulate. We have been particularly disappointed that Councilman White consistently sides with the Mayor and the Port, perhaps secure in the knowledge that in the next election, our two downtown neighborhoods will not be in his Daniels Island district. As reported in the newspaper, I joined the president of Ansonborough’s association in calling the ordinance ‘a sham’ as it allows the City to say they passed a cruise ship ordinance, but it’s an ordinance in name only.” -Randy Pelzer

The Early Show:

And today’s CBS-TV’s “Early Show” covered the Charleston Cruise Ship Controversy interviewing CCL’s Dana Beach, the Preservation Society’s Evan Thompson, and Mayor Riley (who repeated his fictional account of the City’s impotence to regulate). The network sent a reporter and camera crew to Charleston to film its report. Dana and Evan presented reasonable concerns about the size, number, and frequency of cruise ship visits and their impacts on Charleston. The pictures of these giant cruise ships blocking our historic skyline from the water were arresting–and are more frightening if one considers the future. These ships are getting larger and larger and larger.


1) “Pursue Real Cruise Rules” – P&C

2) “City Council Should Opt for Stronger Cruise Ship Rules” – P&C

3) “Cruise Ordinance Remains Afloat” – P&C Robert Behre

4) South Carolina Ports general circulation email

5) “Just Because They Can” – Charleston News Alternative

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.