BY ROBERT NEW and PAT BARBER The cruise debate rages on, and for those of us who toil on the docks and in waterfront-related trades, we are deeply concerned. The Coastal Conservation League, the Historic Charleston Foundation and the Preservation Society have used “beyond bizarre” accusations about Charleston’s maritime passenger business, and the Port of Charleston generally. The latest salvo, the “Miley” report denying the substantial economic benefits of the cruise industry, is inherently flawed.
The facts are simple. First, the cruise business is an enormous economic benefit to airlines, stevedores, bus and taxi drivers, longshoremen, steamship agents, shop owners, pilots, food suppliers, restaurants and an incredible myriad of businesses that survive and thrive from the added revenue of the ships. Second, the cruise industry is an environmentally friendly, clean, and well-regulated industry. Third, the legitimate issues regarding traffic have been substantially mitigated and will all but disappear with the completion of the new terminal and altered traffic flow. Finally, the arguments of noise pollution and violation of height ordinances are laughable.
This has become a war of words and consultant reports and our maritime businesses are caught in the crossfire. What is truly missing from the debate is a sense of heritage and history. The founding of the Charlestown colony in 1670 was the creation of the port. The location of the now and proposed new terminal, Union Pier, has been a working dock for centuries and many, many generations. East Bay Street, Adgers Wharf, Boyces Wharf, Middle Atlantic Wharf, and Vendue Range aren’t catchy street names invented by real estate developers. These streets took their names from working wharves and the shipping interests that built this great city. The homes of Ansonborough and surrounding neighborhoods were built by ship captains and those associated with the docks and trade in recognition of the great seaport Charleston was, and remains today.
In past years, more than 300 ships docked every year at Union Pier. That volume of ship traffic will now decrease by two-thirds. With a visionary mayor, Joe Riley, leading the way, Union Pier will boast a rejuvenated cruise terminal co-existing with smart development and public waterfront access.
The State Ports Authority operates other terminals in Charleston, Mount Pleasant, North Charleston, and Georgetown. Each is dedicated to sectors of commercial shipping, unique to the Ports Authority’s mission of furthering the economy of South Carolina. The very thought that each city could impose its own ordinances to regulate shipping at any terminal would spell economic disaster for our port. No international shipping enterprise would fathom engaging in a contract with the State Ports Authority knowing that a local ordinance could at any time restrict the nature of their business.
Beware of those organizations who profess their desire to “support the port, but regulate shipping.” That simply does not work, and that is why the Ports Authority’s enabling statutes were worded as they are.
The docks, the port, and specifically Union Pier are integral parts of historic Charleston’s DNA. From its founding through almost three and a half centuries the port has been the “soul” of a great city. The “right” balance is fully realized with the creation of the proposed new cruise terminal.
It is imperative that Union Pier remain a working, vibrant dock, steeped in history and tradition, welcoming travelers throughout the world to our home.
Robert New and Pat Barber are members of the South Carolina Waterfront Alliance.