Crucial questions on cruise ships: How many? How big?
BY CARRIE AGNEW
How many is too many? How big is too big? And at what cost does it all come?
Charleston Communities for Cruise Control (C4) has repeatedly raised issues of number, size and environmental impact with respect to cruise ships on its website, at public hearings, in letters to Carnival and on billboards along I-26.
Our current billboard poses the question “How many is too many?” One alarming statistic, recently precisely calculated (and vetted by the Environmental Protection Association), is that the Carnival Fantasy idling a single engine while at Union Pier for 10 hours spews sulfur dioxide emissions equivalent to over 34,000 idling tractor-trailers for the same amount of time. And that is after 2015, when the new cleaner fuel standards are fully in place. It should be noted that Carnival and its trade association have been lobbying hard to eliminate this improvement.
We recall initial assurances that cruise ship visits would be about two per week, which then became an average of two per week, then no more than 104 per year. We have seen those visits concentrated in the already active and crowded months of October and April, with up to four per week. We remain concerned that the dock length and parking planned for the new cruise terminal at Union Pier could accommodate more and bigger ships.
Why else construct a terminal that can handle far greater activity?
With respect to the proposed cruise ship terminal at Union Pier, we were disappointed that our State Ports Authority obtained a necessary permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, sidestepping reviews of impacts on historic sites and the environment as required by the National Historic Preservation Act and National Environmental Policy Act. The SPA was able to do so by characterizing the $35 million rebuild of a dilapidated shed into a new cruise ship terminal as a “maintenance” project.
C4 is heartened by the challenge to this permit now pending in federal court and looks forward to participating in an appropriate future review process.
Likewise, it is curious that the SPA has never addressed several questions posed by the state’s Office of Coastal and Ocean Resource Management in connection with its piling permit application.
Specifically, what other potential terminal sites were studied?
What are the potential impacts on adjacent neighborhood property values?
Where is their “proof of coordination” with the State Historic Preservation office?
A permit should not be considered without these questions being answered.
Other billboards could pose the question “How big is too big?” The new generation of cruise ships has 13 to 15 decks and carries 5,000 passengers and crew.
We might also ask “Is there a better terminal location?”
A cruise ship terminal at Union Pier is in the heart of historic districts and residential neighborhoods. Other locations would provide more distance from residents and easier access to ship passengers and provision trucks.
Other cities, notably Boston and Hamilton, Bermuda, have located new terminals farther from historic areas. Venice, Italy, is suffering greatly from having cruise ships dock in the midst of its historic sites.
We are glad to read of the port’s recent reports of favorable developments with respect to cargo business. C4 is pro-port, pro-business and pro-tourism, as well as pro-quality of life and for perpetuating the very characteristics of Charleston that keeps tourists coming.
The balance between the two aspects of life and work in Charleston has been carefully managed in the past with great success, resulting in Charleston recently being voted “Best Tourist Destination in the World.” After so much work by so many, it would be sad to put that designation at risk by allowing the cruise industry to grow unregulated here.
We join with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, World Monuments Fund, Charleston Preservation Society, Historic Charleston Foundation, Historic Ansonborough Neighborhood Association, Wagener Terrace Neighborhood Association, Charlestown Neighborhood Association, Committee to Save the City, Coastal Conservation League, The Post and Courier, Charleston Mercury and local real estate and hospitality professionals in calling for a reasonable, enforceable regime addressing number, size, frequency and emissions of cruise ships calling in Charleston.
Carrie Agnew is executive director of Charleston Communities for Cruise Control (www.CharlestonCruiseControl.org).