S.C. legislative action for the week

South Carolina House Speaker Bobby Harrell

Wade Spees // The Post and Courier

The high stakes of Charleston's cruise debate -- and the precedent it will set for other U.S. cities wondering how to regulate passenger ships -- is laid open in a recent pair of letters between Mayor Joe Riley and Stephanie Meeks, the new president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The letters were penned earlier this month, shortly after the Preservation Society of Charleston asked the Trust to consider placing Charleston on the Trust's 11 Most Endangered List.

Trust President Stephanie Meeks wrote on May 4 that while the trust isn't opposed to the cruise ship industry in general, it is concerned about the size and frequency of the ships visiting Charleston.

"Without reasonable limitations, these impacts threaten the very character of this historic place," she wrote.

But Riley fired back two days later that he was "beyond dismayed" to receive Meeks' letter, saying "there is no proof that the level of cruise activity that is currently planned for Charleston is or will be harmful for our city."

Meeks urged the city to negotiate an enforceable agreement with the State Ports Authority, noting the city has regulated other businesses. "Many other communities look to Charleston for leadership," she said.

Riley said the trust shouldn't add the city to its endangered list without at least visiting first. "Listing the Port of Charleston as one of the most endangered places in our country would be wrong," he wrote. "It would be wrong and unfair. It would harm our city, its residents and it would not be based on truth or a full understanding of the issue."

The Ports Authority, with the city's blessing, is moving ahead with a new passenger terminal on Union Pier, though some residents and preservationists feel the site should be moved farther north.

Also, the authority and city appear comfortable with the voluntary limits on the frequency and size of cruise ships arriving here in the future, while others want more legally binding caps.

The Trust's new 11 Most Endangered List is expected to be released June 15.