From The Post and Courier
May 23 9:09 am
The verdict is in: Most Charleston-area residents don’t want the State Ports Authority to build a new cruise ship terminal at Union Pier.
At least that’s the majority opinion of those who took the time to send written comments to the Army Corps of Engineers, which will decide whether the SPA gets a federal permit allowing it to proceed with the $35 million project.
The Army Corps solicited comments about the proposal during and after a public hearing on the SPA’s permit application last month. Of the 125 letters that expressed an opinion, all but 20 state the passenger terminal should be moved to another location away from the Historic District or scrapped all together.
The SPA said in a statement that it “looks forward to continuing to participate in the Corps’ permitting process and is optimistic that the project will ultimately receive the necessary permit, allowing the Port to move forward with the new terminal.”
Charles and Kathleen Summerall are among those who say the project should not be built, calling it a “terrible prospect” for the historic Ansonborough neighborhood.
“The Federal government must come to the aid of the citizens of Charleston, a Charleston that has changed dramatically from its former status as ‘the crown jewel of the Atlantic Coast’ to just another ‘city on steroids’ and the prey of developers and politicians statewide to the point where nothing rules but money,” the Summeralls stated.
Kristopher King, executive director of the Preservation Society of Charleston, said the proposal “will have a significant visual impact on scores of historic structures, altering the feel and character of the district.”
King said this group is not opposed to cruise ship tourism as part of a larger, comprehensive plan for Charleston.
“However, only through the establishment and enforcement of safeguards will the integrity of the District be protected,” he wrote.
Others worry that the cruise ship industry will transform Charleston into a tacky tourist trap.
Jimmy Carroll wrote that cruise passengers are not the type that add much value, but are simply in town for a few hours to “buy trinkets and T-shirts.”
“Let’s not be afraid to say enough is enough and maintain our quality of tourist as opposed to becoming a Myrtle Beach type of town,” Carroll stated.
Susan Bass, president of the French Quarter Neighborhood Association, called Charleston “a very old, beautiful and fragile city” and added “we do not want it to turn into Key West.”
Other letter writers cited concerns about security, trash, traffic and pollution, saying diesel soot settles on their properties and urging the Army Corps to require electric shoreside power for any cruise ships docking in the area.
Not all writers were opposed to the project.
“This terminal is sorely needed to accommodate and provide a truly welcoming atmosphere for the cruise passengers who visit Charleston,” Erin Mellen, president of Charleston Convention and Group Services wrote.
Michael Miller, who has taken nine cruises with his wife out of the existing cruise terminal, also supports the project, stating: “I do not buy the pollution argument.”
“I have stood on the top deck of the ship under the stack and have yet to see black smoke blowing into the city,” he wrote. “The cruise industry seems like a natural fit for Charleston, and we should be doing all we can to support the cruise industry and promote Charleston as a great place to visit and take a cruise.”
Blan Holman, a lawyer with the Southern Environmental Law Center, which represents historic preservation groups opposed to the project, said the comments, as a whole, “reflect a desire to look at this issue from fresh perspectives, and to figure out a solution that balances Charleston’s cruise industry with the historic downtown and the people who live and work there.”
The proposal, which has been on the drawing board since 2010, would replace a nearby, early 1970s-era facility used mostly by Carnival Cruise Lines, which calls Charleston the home port for its Ecstasy ship.
The federal permit would allow five additional clusters of pilings beneath an old Union Pier warehouse that would be renovated as a new terminal north of the existing building. The project also would include a loading dock, parking areas, rain canopies, security fences and other items to support cruise ship operations.
The Army Corps has not set a timetable for its permit decision. A previous permit approval was tossed out by a federal judge in 2013 because it did not consider the terminal’s impact on the city’s historic neighborhoods.
Nancy Carder was among those who urged the Army Corps to carefully consider other options for the cruise terminal, including moving it outside of the Historic District.
“Do the right thing and use the other options,” she wrote. “You will sleep better at night.”