Charleston City Council approved a resolution in support of shoreside power if needed for the State Ports Authority's proposed new $35 million downtown cruise terminal.
The statement of support passed by a 10-2 vote during the panel's meeting on Tuesday evening, adding political momentum to a growing debate about pollution from cruise terminals in the city's downtown area.
Environmentalists and neighborhood groups have complained about pollution in the historic district coming from cruise ships idling their engines at Union Pier. Most complaints target the Fantasy, a 25-year-old vessel based in Charleston year-round.
The Fantasy now must run one of its six engines to generate electricity while in port, triggering calls for the SPA to force vessels to generate power with a shoreside outlet.
City council's vote followed comments from several residents and community leaders who complained about cruise ship emissions spewing into the historic district and urging council's support for shoreside power.
Among them was Carrie Agnew, executive director of the Charleston Communities for Cruise Control.
"It's important that any new cruise terminal have shore power," she said, adding that she notices soot stains at her home that sits in the city's Charlestowne neighborhood.
The resolution, presented by Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, stated that the city supports the actions of the state General Assembly in assuring funding is available for shore power at the new terminal when needed.
The state House of Representatives' budget-writing committee recently approved up to $5 million to equip Union Pier with shore power. That means the funds will be included in the proposed budget that will be sent to the House for a vote.
Riley's city resolution countered some wordings in the initial resolution to support shoreside power, which was presented by Councilman William Dudley Gregorie.
Riley has said that the city should allow SPA time to figure out if shoreside power will be needed at the new cruise terminal. The SPA wants to relocate its cruise terminal to the north end of Union Pier from the south end.
Plans for the new cruise terminal have been stalled by lawsuits challenging extended cruise operations in the city.
The council's vote on Tuesday evening also followed a 10-minute presentation by Jim Newsome, SPA's chief executive.
Newsome said that data from the state Department of Health & Environmental Control shows overall improvement to the air quality in Charleston County. He added that there are measures being taken to improve cruise ship emissions in downtown Charleston.
That includes the vessel Fantasy being outfitted with air-pollution scrubbers when the vessel goes into dry dock in October 2015.
The scrubbers are designed to reduce sulfur dioxide, with filters to trap soot.
Also, the SPA is seeking to add an air-quality monitor at its Union Pier Terminal.
Groups such as Charleston Communities for Cruise Control and the Coastal Conservation League have argued that scrubbers should be complemented with shoreside power to fight pollution in the downtown area.
Newsome said Tuesday that the new cruise terminal will have shoreside power capabilities if needed.
The SPA has been reluctant to embrace shoreside power, saying the agency does not want to be held to a single measure to reduce emissions from cruise ships. The agency has previously reviewed shoreside power, concluding that it was too costly.
In 2011, the SPA estimated it would have to invest $5.6 million, and that Carnival Cruise Lines would have to spend about another $1.5 million to retrofit the Fantasy.
The two city council members who voted against Tuesday's resolution were Rodney Williams and Dean C. Riegel.
Riegel said Newsome's presentation showed that a resolution would not be necessary since it could limit the agency's efforts to control emissions. "I see no need for a resolution," he said. "I think they are doing all the right things."
Following the vote, Newsome said the approved resolution supports the actions being taken by SPA in regards to controlling emissions from cruise ships.
"I think the general thrust is that they endorse that we are doing what is best to improve air quality in the harbor and we will see where it goes from there," he said.