For more than three years, certain factions have tried to throw a monkey wrench into the State Ports Authority's plan to build a new cruise ship terminal in Charleston. Their concerns have been heard, and it is time for them to come on board. The new terminal will be a gift to the city.
The Preservation Society of Charleston and Charlestowne and Ansonborough neighborhood associations have a lawsuit against Carnival Cruise Lines. As a result, the three organizations, which have done such good works in the past, are suffering internal divisions that could diminish their effectiveness. By suing a customer of the SPA they are endangering the port's overall business. If local organizations sue one, what's to stop them from suing another? It is time they withdraw from the suit and restore their reputation of good works. Nothing good can be gained by trying to run a company out of town when there is no proof that the company has damaged our city. The local organizations joining this suit against Carnival and, by extension, against the city and SPA have no place at the table as effective community leaders.
Everyone agrees that the present cruise terminal is a disaster for Charleston and dumps its passengers into a crowded part of the city. The city can and will control the effects of cruise ships as we have controlled buses, horse carriages, walking tours, etc. The first step is to build a new cruise terminal, and any group that opposes the present plan should consider that doing so could deprive our city of the redevelopment of 10 blocks from warehouses to residences and retail businesses, deprive the city of a profitable segment of the tourist industry and have long range effects on the how residents cooperate in the control and development of this living historic community.
Cruise ships are approximately 5 percent of the SPA's business. Using Union Pier would keep visitors near the city center, contain all cruise operations on one site and avoid a bottleneck to downtown Charleston. Moving the terminal elsewhere would conflict with the goals of the commercial port and put additional traffic on our downtown streets to ferry passengers back and forth to the terminal. The DASH buses could serve Union Pier and spread tourists all over the city - downtown, uptown, King Street, the Museum Mile and the Market.
Then there is the opportunity to redevelop 10 blocks or so of the city. Union Pier now occupies 74 acres - 43 acres of high land, 11 acres of tidal land and 20 acres of decking. The new terminal will occupy less high land and use more decking. The city saves 11 acres.
The "anti" forces have made an issue of pollution from cruise ships. Cruise ships are highly regulated, and they have made improvements in their engines and the fuels they use. If you watch a ship embark or debark at Union Pier, you may see a puff of smoke as the large engines are started. Most diesel engines (cars, trucks, or trains) do the same thing. The puff is much less than most of the cargo ships that come to our harbor. Some friends living in Dockside confirm that their window sills have never been so clean since the cargo ships have moved north and the cruise ships have come. The smoke from engines mostly comes from sulfur in the fuel. The international Ship Engine and Fuel Standards require reductions in sulfur content and the EPA enforces these standards for all ships operating within 200 miles of our shores. Standards in 2008 allowed 15 times more sulfur than will be allowed in 2015. The pollution problem is being corrected.
Plug-in power on the docks sounds good, but electricity is generated by burning something. Why make more pollution for the people who live near power plants when, with the new generators using cleaner fuel, power can be produced on the ship? The SPA performed a study that shows plug-in power had a cost estimate of $5.6 million, and the ships must be refitted to receive the power at a cost of $1 million to $2 million each. It doesn't make sense to incur all this cost for less than 104 ships per year. The better answer is on-board generators operating on clean fuel.
There will always be people for or against projects, but it distresses me to see some of our old community organizations opposing cruise ships that have done no wrong. When and if they do wrong, it is up to all of us to unite to correct it. These organizations now party to the suit against Carnival may not be able to provide the leadership and help if that time comes.
I hope the membership of these organizations will come together to work with the city, the SPA and other community organizations to keep Charleston a dynamic, living historic city.
Thomas E. Thornhill is past president of the Charlestowne Neighborhood Association.