Cruise foes battle permits

This undated photograph, taken before cargo operations were moved from Union Pier in 2011, show the location of the current and proposed cruise ship passenger terminals

Opponents of Charleston’s cruise-ship industry believe the State Ports Authority’s need for a permit to build a $35 million passenger terminal presents an opportunity to stop the plan.

About 200 people, with a clear majority opposed to the new terminal, turned out Wednesday night for a hearing in North Charleston on the Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management permit.

The permit would allow the SPA to install five additional pilings under Union Pier on the Cooper River. The pilings would support elevators and escalators that would be installed in an existing warehouse slated for conversion to the new passenger terminal.

Cruise opponents said the state must consider every impact cruise ships are having in Charleston before deciding on the pilings permit.

“Simply put, if this project goes through, it could mean the end of the Ansonborough neighborhood and many others,” said Kathleen Summerall, a neighborhood resident.

Several downtown neighborhood associations have joined with environmental, health and preservation groups to oppose the cruise terminal and call for limits on the existing cruise business. A lawsuit is pending before the state Supreme Court.

Cruise terminal supporters, including Mayor Joe Riley and a number of people with port-related jobs and businesses, spoke in favor of the plan. Existing cruise-ship operations would move from the south end of union pier, near Market Street, to the north end, near Laurens Street.

“It is the same business, the same cruise activity, that is currently going on in Charleston,” Riley said.

He said the plan has the “overwhelming support” of most residents, would reduce the current impact of the cruise business, and would open 35 acres of SPA property to beneficial redevelopment.

Opponents say cruise ships pollute the air as they run their engines while in port, disturb city residents with their horns and passenger announcements, and cause traffic problems when thousands of passengers arrive and depart by car.

Coastal Conservation League Director Dana Beach said having a cruise ship in port is like putting a dirty power plant on the edge of a residential neighborhood.

“This thing is not about five pilings,” he said. “It’s about the broader impacts of the terminal project.”

The new passenger terminal would be far larger than the current one, which Beach and other opponents fear could lead to more and larger cruise ships. The city and SPA have agreed to cap cruise-ship visits at an average of two per week, and 84 are planned this year.

SPA President and CEO Jim Newsome did not speak at the OCRM permit hearing, but in comments after an SPA board meeting Tuesday, he said his pledges about the cruise business can be relied upon.

“I’m not going to be made a liar over something that accounts for five percent of our business,” he said.

The Ansonborough and Charlestowne neighborhood associations want the new passenger terminal relocated, possibly to the SPA’s Columbus Street terminal outside the downtown area. Newsome and other SPA officials have said that idea’s a non-starter, partially because Columbus Street is busy and growing port used to ship BMW vehicles and other non-container cargo.

Port worker James Pinkney Jr., vice president of the dockworker’s union, said the project should move forward. He said opponents are hypocritical, because when he was growing up in an Ansonborough housing project, he heard no objections to projects that environmentally harmed the area.

Downtown resident Courtenay McDowell said cruise-ship operations have approached a tipping point in the livability of the area.

“I speak of what’s happening today in fear of what will happen tomorrow, with more cruise ships,” she said.

There is no deadline for a decision on the permit from the Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management.

Reach David Slade at 937-5552 or Twitter @DSladeNews.