Four years ago this month, hundreds of people gathered for a forum to address Charleston's "delicate balance" between livability and tourism. Cruise ships emerged as a key concern because of the emissions, crowding and noise they create, and the ships' oversized profiles.
Since then, a stalwart segment of the community has pushed for reasonable limits on the cruise industry but has achieved little traction with elected officials.
State Reps. Jim Merrill and Leon Stavrinakis last week announced their plan to authorize up to $5 million for the State Ports Authority to install plug-in power for cruise ships idling at the dock. The move adds momentum to a debate that needs to be resolved.
And while the S.C. Supreme Court Wednesday dismissed a lawsuit filed against Carnival Cruise Lines, the defeat isn't as devastating as the cruise line and port have insisted.
Indeed, the ruling did not even consider the substance of the lawsuit, which charged that the Fantasy is injurious to the people of Charleston because of the emissions, noise and congestion it creates. Rather, the case was dismissed on a technicality
And that certainly will not deter advocates of enforceable regulations for cruise ships from continuing to push their case.
The Legislature, when it considers the proposal presented by Mr. Stavrinakis and Mr. Merrill, needs to look beyond this court decision and focus on the very real problems caused by cruise ships that run engines the entire time they are at dock, emitting particulates that are bad for the environment and for people's health. They will get confirmation from both local and state medical associations who are on record lamenting emissions for medical reasons.
The SPA is not interested in providing shoreside power, saying better technology is expected to be forthcoming. Charleston Mayor Joe Riley and City Council have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the SPA.
The move by Mr. Merrill, R-Charleston, and Mr. Stavrinakis, D-Charleston, is an indication that momentum is finally shifting in the right direction. At last, an elected body might actually consider a solution to the most serious cruise issue affecting Charleston residents.
It is a pity, however, that the SPA hasn't stepped up to do the right thing as have other ports around the country, sharing the expense of upfitting for shore power with utilities, local municipalities and cruise lines.
Relying on a state budget allocation has more than its share of problems. The SPA's lack of interest in plug-in power is certain to discourage legislative support for the proposal. So will the SPA's rather incredible assertion that it could use the funding elsewhere. Indeed, an SPA statement said, "We anticipate utilizing the industry's most modern and efficient technologies at the new passenger terminal at Union Pier and applying these proposed funds, if appropriated, to implement these practices."
No mention of plug-in shore power. Of course, the Legislature could designate an allocation specifically for shoreside power.
Even the Supreme Court ruling concedes that there's a problem: "In short, these allegations are simply complaints about inconveniences suffered broadly by all persons residing in or passing through the City of Charleston."
Mayor Riley, who has aligned the city with the SPA and Carnival from the start, called the recently dismissed lawsuit "almost laughable."
But to many of his constituents it is a crying shame that the mayor and council are so cavalier about cruise ship problems - including emissions and the potential hazard they pose to the health of people living, working and visiting Charleston.
The cruise ship debate is not over by any means. Some individuals represented by groups in the now-dismissed lawsuit are interested in filing lawsuits about, among other things, their exposure to particulate emissions.
Further, the city of Charleston is scheduled to begin revisiting and possibly updating its tourism management plan. This is a good opportunity for those people who object to the various problems caused by cruise ships to make their case to their elected council representatives.
And it is a good time for officials to start paying attention - and not dismiss residents' very real concerns as somehow "almost laughable."