Just the cruise facts

  • Posted: Sunday, July 7, 2013 12:01 a.m.

The debate over cruise ships in Charleston has been intractable. Port officials are adamant that they should be the ones to rein in their cruise business if it gets out of hand. Preservationists and neighbors argue that the city needs to use its authority to limit the number and size of cruise ships here. The city, they say, is already suffering from too many people, too much air pollution and cruise ship profiles that dwarf the city’s scenic skyline.

The two sides are locked in a legal battle.

So it might be interesting to read, in a guest column on today’s Commentary page, how Savannah decided to avoid such cruise-related strife.

And it might be interesting to consider the dispassionate perspective of a scholar on the subject.

Lauren Perez Hoogkamer recently completed her thesis for a master of science in historic preservation and a master of science in urban planning at the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation at Columbia University.

Her topic?

Assessing and managing cruise ship tourism in historic port cities: Case Study, Charleston, South Carolina.

After extensive research in Charleston and globally, Mrs. Hoogkamer makes several recommendations for an assessment and phased management plan that would allow the city to “reap the benefits of cruise tourism while mitigating costs and protecting invaluable cultural resources.”

To date, neither the State Ports Authority nor the city of Charleston has been willing to place enforceable restrictions on the cruise business here despite repeated requests for such by residents.

Mrs. Hoogkamer suggests pausing the Union Pier project in order to conduct baseline studies and assessments of the “potential impacts on the overall environment, economy, and community, including historic and cultural resources.” She further suggests that the State Historic Preservation Office might require this assessment, given the cruise terminal’s proximity to historic Charleston.

Mrs. Hoogkamer concludes that a heritage tourism management plan should be created by the city, state, preservation professionals and the tourism/cruise industry, and that Charleston and the SPA implement appropriate taxes, fees and funds to offset management and maintenance costs.

This money could go toward preservation and environmental conservation — perhaps shoreside power to reduce air emissions from cruise ships idling at dock.

Finally, she concludes that “strict and binding passenger and ship quotas and limitations” should be implemented — something, again, that residents have asked for but the city and SPA have refused.

Mrs. Hoogkamer’s proposals mirror and expand upon some proposed locally. She does include a caveat about her research — Tim Keane, Charleston’s director of planning, preservation and sustainability, cut their interview short after 15 minutes, and both SPA representatives, Allison Skipper and Patrick Moore, canceled their meetings for last-minute engagements.

That’s too bad. It isn’t too late for the SPA and the City of Charleston to listen to reason and codify restrictions so that Charleston can profit from the cruise industry without being damaged.

But first they have to show an open mind.

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