Terminal site change unlikely State Ports Authority, Riley stay firm on location despite request

The Carnival Fantasy cruise ship docks at the south end of Union Pier in Charleston. The State Ports Authority plans to build a new passenger terminal at the north end of the pier. Some environmental and neighborhood groups and the city’s Planning Commission are opposed to it.

The State Ports Authority and Charleston Mayor Joe Riley say they don’t intend to consider alternative sites besides Union Pier for a new cruise passenger terminal, despite a call to do that from the city’s Planning Commission.

The commission Monday voted to recommend to City Council that it approve a long-awaited tourism management plan, provided city leaders look for an alternative to Union Pier as the site of the building.

On Tuesday, the Coastal Conservation League, which along with other environmental and neighborhood groups has filed state and federal lawsuits to stop the terminal from being built so close to a historic neighborhood, celebrated the commission’s stance.

The $35 million cruise-ship terminal, a State Ports Authority project, has been delayed by the lawsuits, Riley said. City Council voted to support the SPA’s plan about four years ago, he said.

Riley also said he thinks council likely will vote to accept the tourism plan when it considers giving it initial approval May 12. But he thinks it’s unlikely it will vote to accept the commission’s condition that it look at other sites for a passenger terminal. “I certainly can’t imagine that,” Riley said.

Council doesn’t have to accept the commission’s recommendations, he said.

People have said a new cruise passenger terminal at the SPA’s Columbus Street Terminal would be better because it’s not as close to a historic neighborhood, Riley said. But the SPA has made clear that there simply isn’t room at that terminal. Union Pier “is the only location available,” Riley said.

He also said he thinks the commission should have allowed time Monday for a presentation on the Union Pier plan before it voted on the matter.

SPA spokeswoman Erin Dhand said in a prepared statement that the maritime agency will abide by a voluntary cruise management plan approved by its board and City Council.

“We appreciate the cooperation of the mayor and City Council as we proceed with all necessary permitting and eventual construction of the new facility on Union Pier, which will allow for improved traffic flows and greater access to Charleston’s beautiful waterfront,” she said.

The proposed site of the planned terminal is an existing warehouse at the north end of Union Pier.

Once it opens, the authority wants to redevelop 35 acres of waterfront to the south, where the present terminal stands. Preliminary plans have shown a mix of commercial and residential areas.

Dana Beach, executive director of the Coastal Conservation League, said he thinks the commission’s vote was significant. “The Planning Commission is the designated body by the city of Charleston to evaluate land-use decisions,” he said.

Beach also said that, in response to a lawsuit filed by the league and the Preservation Society of Charleston, U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel has ordered the Army Corps of Engineers to redo the study of the project with more extensive review.

“They didn’t do an adequate assessment of alternatives,” Beach said. “This, in effect, confirms that.”

Cruise-ship supporters have said the industry is an important part of the Lowcountry’s larger tourism economy and a source of jobs.

Opponents said they don’t want to ban all cruise ships, but they want the authority to consider sites other than Union Pier, and sites farther from the city’s Historic District, for its new passenger terminal.

Legal wrangling over that site — the 60 acres between Market, Washington and Laurens streets and the harbor — has slowed the state’s plans to redevelop the area.

Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491 or on Twitter at @dianeknich.