Two years ago, United States District Court Judge Richard Gergel handed the cruise terminal opponents their first victory, tossing the SPA’s federal permit to build a proposed $35 million terminal at Union Pier and blasting the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for failing to adequately review the project’s effects on the area.

This time, the Corps promises a thorough job.

The battle lines are being drawn. At the first “consultation process” hearing on October 22, the APE, or “Area of Potential Effects,” became the focus. Participants responded to a series of questions about the impacts on Charleston’s buildings on the National Historic Register and its National Historic Landmark status.

The SPA argued that the APE must be tightly drawn around the terminal property. “Not so fast,” opponents say. Cars, buses and taxis must travel through the Historic District creating immense traffic just to transport passengers to the terminal; the smog, soot and noise drifts well beyond the terminal compromising homes and human health; and cruise passengers swarm like ants over the City causing congestion and impacts well beyond the terminal area.

Yet SPA CEO Jim Newsome reiterated his claim that cruise ships are part of Charleston’s history. He said that cruise ships are “maritime commerce,” meaning that passengers aren’t tourists and can’t be regulated. If they visit the Historic District, he asserted, that’s just incidental. The SPA’s contracted study claims that only four to six percent of tourism comes from cruise passengers.

Meanwhile, Mayor Joseph Riley professed that cruise ships are good for Charleston, that redevelopment of the Southern portion of Union Pier would be a boon to the City.

Opponents of these assertions were ready.

Historic Charleston Foundation’s Christopher Cody showed historic photos of ships in the harbor and said “it’s improbable that historically more than a few hundred passengers per day would have used Charleston's port.” Thousands of cruise passengers, “potentially over 7,000 at a time, represent a new use of the harbor and a concentrated intrusion that’s inappropriate for our historic district's scale and layout. Just because cruise ships are boats doesn’t automatically make them related to our traditions of maritime commerce.”

“We believe the impacts cannot be limited to the fence line of the Port property,” said Kristopher King, Executive Director of The Preservation Society, because the court directed the Corps to “consider both the direct and indirect effects on historic properties within and outside the permit area.” King also cited the SPA’s own Brockington Associates study that admits that “cruise passengers will represent 25-40 percent of vehicular traffic in the Historic District” when those ships are in town.  

Interviewed later, King added, “The Corps must consider direct and indirect impacts on the use and character of our National Landmark District consisting mainly of single family dwellings which the SPA’s historic assessment admits may be impacted.”

The public has until November 5 to comment. Letters should be directed to Mr. Nathaniel Ball, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 69-A Hagood Avenue, Charleston, SC, 29403.

 

 

Jay Williams, Jr.

Charleston, S.C.

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