By Matt Tomsic
Published April 19, 2012
A public meeting Wednesday once again gave an opportunity for residents, maritime leaders, preservationists and conservationists to revisit arguments for and against a new cruise terminal on Union Pier.
The Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management hosted the hearing in response to a permit application filed by the S.C. State Ports Authority to install five pilings on Union Pier at an existing building that will house the new cruise terminal. The pilings will support elevators and escalators. The Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management is part of the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.
The ports authority’s plans call for a new cruise terminal to be located farther north on Union Pier than the existing terminal. Workers will renovate an existing warehouse for the new terminal, and the city’s Board of Architectural Review approved the final design of the terminal April 11. The port also plans to open more than 35 acres of the southern end of Union Pier for public and private development after the terminal is built.
At the beginning of the meeting, office staff asked speakers to address the permit for the pilings, but much of the audience asked staff to consider the entire project and the pilings’ significance as the first step to building the new cruise terminal.
For hours, staff called name after name, and person after person walked to a microphone to give their statement.
Dana Beach, the executive director of the Coastal Conservation League, said the cruise terminal project places only physical limits onto the cruise industry in Charleston. Beach argued the 1,800-foot long dock can accommodate two ships at a time, and ships docked there run their engines for 10 hours a day, generating enough power to run the electric system of a small town. Beach noted the plans did not include shore-side power, which would allow cruise ships to cut their engines while docked. Beach said he is concerned about potential air and water pollution caused by the ships.
“There is nothing to prevent Charleston from having a virtual power plant or two at this dock,” Beach said.
Cruise supporters, though, pointed to a voluntary agreement between the city and the ports authority. The agreement limits the number of cruise ships calling on Charleston to 104 per year and the frequency to one at a time.
Beach also asked the Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management to think broadly.
The office needs to consider whether the project complies with local zoning regulations — an issue before the state Supreme Court now — and whether feasible alternatives exist. Beach noted the new cruise terminal will be within hundreds of feet of a commercial area and within 1,000 feet of downtown neighborhoods, and now the ports authority needs to provide evidence proving no other feasible alternative exists.
“It’s important to remember the federal coastal zone management program is a broad program that was designed to be a comprehensive design program,” Beach said. “For better or worse, you folks are in the hot seat.”
James Pinckney Jr., vice president of the local International Longshoremen’s Association chapter, said he hears hypocrisy coming from opponents of the new cruise terminal.
Pinckney is a lifelong Charleston resident and saw developments and docksides built in marsh around his home. He asked where the environmental groups and preservationists were at that time, when it mattered to him.
“I’m as Charleston as they come,” Pinckney said. “Where (was) the voice when I needed to be heard?”
He said he doesn’t want to see the cruise business chased from Charleston and turn around to see another row of condominiums downtown.
The port has been a vital part of his life, Pinckney said, and he’s watched the port and shipping business elevate Charleston.
“Let us just cut to the chase,” he said. “Let us just let this project go on.”