News | April 7, 2016

Public hearing a chance to “hit the reset button” on Charleston cruise terminal proposal

An upcoming public hearing on Charleston’s planned cruise-ship terminal is an opportunity to take a new look at the proposal and consider how different approaches, and even a different location, could best benefit the historic city.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is holding an April 12 public meeting and “information session” to hear from citizens. The hearing was scheduled after the Corps received more than 300 comments about the proposal from the South Carolina State Port Authority (SPA) to construct a new cruise terminal. While the SPA has claimed the project is “maintenance” and sought to avoid review, federal law requires the Corps to consider all impacts from a new terminal and all options for reducing them.

“This public hearing is a chance to get beyond the notion that a $35 million cruise terminal is just a ‘maintenance’ project,” said Blan Holman, managing attorney in SELC’s Charleston office. “This is a chance to hit the reset button and discuss what is best for the city and the region as a whole.”

SELC is representing the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League and the Preservation Society of Charleston. The groups want the Corps to consider what could be done to better balance the cruise industry’s requests with the needs of the Historic District and other areas of the city.

The groups are asking to Corps to consider several options, including:

  • Building the cruise terminal at another location, closer to major interstates and transportation hubs. That would relieve the stress on Charleston’s Historic District, while freeing up valuable waterfront for new uses.
  • Converting the SPA’s voluntary agreements on the size of cruise ships and the frequency of visits into binding agreements. The SPA has agreed to limit cruise ships visiting Charleston to 3,500 passengers, to cap the number of ship visits to 104 yearly, and to ensure only one ship in port at a time. However, the SPA has resisted making those limits binding.
  • Require docked cruise ships to use shore power, which will limit the pollution caused by idling diesel engines. Already ports in Seattle, San Francisco, San Diego, and Brooklyn use, or are planning to use, pollution-cutting shore power for cruise ships. Charleston deserves that same commitment.

“People are looking for balance so we can move on,” Holman said. “They want solutions and options to balance the cruise industry with the charm and health of the city in a way that protects existing neighborhoods and businesses.”

Charleston’s Historic District is a National Historic Landmark, and any change to the ports must take that into account, Holman said.

“Charleston’s historic district is a national treasure and it is the No. 1 reason people visit here,” he said.  “Charleston’s significance to our nation’s history is why it has special protections under the law that require a hard look at options for keeping impacts to a minimum.”

The public hearing will be April 12, from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Citadel’s Holliday Alumni Center, 69 Haygood Ave., Charleston.