Cruising back to reality

File/AP

Jobs, not snobs? Say “goodbye” to that snide slogan designed to promote the cruise industry in Charleston. An independent economic analysis of how cruises impact the local economy concludes that passenger cruises using the port of Charleston do not create or sustain jobs.

Further, the study says cruises do not inject as much money into the economy as has been proclaimed. Indeed, they might actually compete with local businesses instead of enhancing them.

And the report indicates the net affect of cruises calling on or embarking from Charleston might actually be a financial loss to the city, which provides related services.

The analysis, commissioned by Historic Charleston Foundation and performed by Miley & Associates of Columbia, finds that research being used by the S.C. State Ports Authority to justify doing business with Carnival and other cruise lines is faulty and incomplete.

For more than a year, local residents, preservationists and environmentalists have expressed considerable apprehension. On Wednesday, more than 100 attended a hearing by the Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management to protest plans for a new terminal because of potential damage by an unregulated cruise industry. They say the traffic, noise and pollution it causes have already compromised the livability for people who reside in, work in or visit downtown Charleston.

But they have been brushed aside as misguided “snobs” who expect Charleston to function like a gated community instead of a vibrant city. They have been reminded over and over that the industry is an economic boon to the city.

At the very least, this report should convince the city of Charleston to re-evaluate its support for an unrestricted cruise presence in Charleston — including its decision to join sides with Carnival as a defendant in a lawsuit calling for enforceable limits on the industry.

Part of that re-evaluation should include determining how much money the cruise industry costs the city in services and what its return on investment is — if any.

The Historic Charleston Foundation has wisely renewed its call for the city to impose restrictions on the size, number and frequency of cruise ships visiting Charleston.

In addition, it is asking the SPA to negotiate with Carnival to pay a reasonable passenger fee (see HCF Executive Director Katharine Robinson’s column on today’s Commentary page).

The fee could be used by the city to offset costs associated with the development of Union Pier property being vacated by the SPA. Such fees are not unusual in port cities.

The HCF is also taking a step in an even more controversial direction. It wants the data the SPA used to determine where to move the passenger terminal and its research on the impact of that terminal on neighborhoods and historic areas.

The SPA has indicated it did due diligence and that the site where the new terminal is to be built is the best place for it. Some contend a site farther from congested downtown Charleston would be better.

Miley and Associates suggests the city establish a commission to advise City Council on cruise-related issues and that it also be involved with negotiations between the cruise industry and the SPA.

The peninsula is “the goose that lays the gold eggs,” and the city should ensure it isn’t killed by uncontrolled cruise business.

A recent letter to the editor chided The Post and Courier for opposing cruise ships. We have not done that.

Like the HCF, Preservation Society of Charleston, Ansonborough and Charles Town neighborhood associations and Coastal Conservation League, we have called for enforceable restrictions to ensure that the cruise industry does not harm the delicate balance of Charleston or the environment.

Now, with authoritative data, the SPA and the city should acknowledge the wisdom of what residents have been saying and work together to protect the extraordinary place that is Charleston.