The Carnival ship Fantasy, when it is here in its home port, doesn’t just pick up and drop off passengers. It has a significant impact on the environment and the congestion on peninsula Charleston’s streets and sidewalks. It makes noise and looms larger than anything else in Charleston’s historic area.
A ruling by federal Judge Richard Gergel acknowledges that those consequences must be addressed before a new $35 million cruise terminal is permitted.
That means a delay for the State Ports Authority, which wants to convert an old shed into a large modern cruise terminal at Union Pier. We hope it also means that decisions will be made with more sensitivity to the city and its people.
The Coastal Conservation League and the Preservation Society of Charleston sued the Army Corps of Engineers over a permit it issued allowing five pilings to be driven on the waterfront for the proposed terminal. The pilings would be necessary to bear the weight of escalators and elevators.
The lawsuit has been viewed by some as baseless, misdirected obstructionism.
But Judge Gergel concluded otherwise — and strongly. On Thursday he said the Corps was dismissive of its duties to evaluate the project in its entirety, possibly “because they’re scared of what the answer is.”
He also noted what cruise industry enthusiasts have played down: The terminal is being designed for vessels even larger than the Fantasy. A ship accommodating 3,500 passengers instead of 2,000 would make a much bigger impact.
Neighborhood associations, preservationists and environmentalists have expressed concern that, unchecked by regulations, the industry will grow too large for this small area and will bring big problems that other historic ports like Venice are experiencing.
S.C. State Ports Authority President and CEO Jim Newsome has pledged to Charleston Mayor Joe Riley that the SPA will allow no more than 104 cruises a year without holding public hearings. The mayor has said he is satisfied with that.
His stance is surprising, given the broad regulations that otherwise govern historic Charleston: the color people can paint their homes, the number of pedicabs that can operate, tour boat operations, the scholarship of tour directors, and the number and location of hotel rooms.
The city has been asked to put regulations in place to control the cruise industry, not to eliminate it, but to limit inappropriate growth.
Carnival and the port have been challenged to commit to such limits, and to install and use plug-in power for cruise ships idling at the dock and producing the kind of emissions that have been associated with lung disease and cancer.
They have refused.
A new study commissioned by the Southern Environmental Law Center makes a strong case for shoreside power. Energy and Environmental Research Associates in Pittsford, N.Y., concludes that cruise ships in Charleston could dramatically reduce pollution by plugging into the electrical grid — even after regulations requiring ships to burn cleaner fuel are implemented.
The 2,000-passenger Fantasy, plugging in at dock, could reduce carbon monoxide emissions by 92 percent, ozone-causing nitrogen oxides by 98 percent, small particulate soot by 34 percent and carbon dioxide by 26 percent.
Incorporating shoreside power into any plans for a new terminal is only logical.
Historic Charleston, widely and deservedly praised for its preservation efforts, remains on the watch list of the National Trust for Historic Preservation as being at risk because of the impact of cruise ships.
The court-ordered review of the Ports Authority’s terminal project offers another chance to do the cruise business in Charleston the right way.