Charleston continues to welcome, if that’s the word, 104 cruise ship stops a year. That’s the maximum number that city officials agreed to accept in a pact with the State Ports Authority. Years later, it continues to generate controversy, and a lawsuit to halt it is still pending.
So it was somewhat surprising when Mount Pleasant Town Councilman Gary Santos suggested last month that smaller cruises could anchor near Fort Sumter and ferry their passengers to shore at Patriots Point as a way to bring in more ships than currently allowed.
The idea isn’t necessarily to provide an alternative site to get around Charleston’s restriction on the number of times that cruise ships can dock on the peninsula. Rather it is to give Mount Pleasant a tourism boost. Certainly it would help Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum, where passengers would arrive.
But Mount Pleasant should give the matter a closer look in view of the intense opposition that Carnival Cruise Line inspired in downtown Charleston. Critics include residents on the lower peninsula, historic preservation organizations and environmental groups.
Even the National Trust for Historic Preservation has decried the operation for being badly out of scale with one of America’s most historic cities. Other complaints relate to water and air pollution, the level of foot traffic cruises create en masse, and auto traffic caused by passengers coming and going.
Mr. Santos, who is employed in a shipping-related business, says visitors could pump money into the town’s economy without having any negative effects. “I’m working with local tourist attractions in Mount Pleasant, like Boone Hall and [The Center for] Birds of Prey, to set some things up,” Mr. Santos told reporter David Slade. The councilman’s next stop should be with his colleagues at town hall.
At this point, the decision isn’t one that council has a say in, but it should. Town Council should consider the impacts of cruise ship operations. Unlike much of the Charleston peninsula, Mount Pleasant isn’t a walkable community. Its tourist attractions are spread across a relatively large area with minimal public transportation and limited bike and pedestrian access.
Even assuming the unlikely proposition that cruise passengers would spend their entire time in Mount Pleasant rather than driving over the bridge to downtown Charleston, they would still have to rely on rental cars or shuttle buses to get around. Town councilmen recently complained about the lack of bus service, as they voted to turn down the budget for CARTA.
Charleston City Council approved its voluntary regulations only after the deal with the SPA already had been struck, and had become the subject of intense criticism from downtown residents. Maybe the arrival of cruise ships in Mount Pleasant would be merely occasional and uneventful, but council shouldn’t count on it. The idea deserves its perusal and the courtesy of a public review and hearing.
This editorial incorrectly states that Mount Pleasant officials have not been consulted about plans to bring cruise ships to the town. The idea has been periodically discussed in public forums, including the town Economic Development Committee.