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Cruise ships, February 2

Cruise ship symposium - Chasing a lost cause?

Warwick Jones

So let me get this right. Folk are coming to a symposium in Charleston this week to warn us of the problems that cruise ships cause in a number of cities, and they will advise us as what to do in avoiding these problems. To hear these folk and other local luminaries, we need to pay $300. Maybe the cost would be worthwhile if Charleston is burdened by a cruise ship problem. Except at the monthly meetings of a few Peninsula neighborhood associations, and the editorial pages of the Post and Courier, folk don’t think there is a problem. And it seems the number of cruise ship visits – about 2 a week – is a number that just about all folk, including the neighborhood groups and the P&C editors, agree is just right.

It all reminds me of the regular customer who drank long at the bar every night at Grand Central station. Asked why he drank so much, he replied, “It keeps the pink elephants away”.
“But there are no pink elephants here”, the enquirer observed.
“See it works!” he retorted.

The Coastal Conservation League (CCL) and its pals, the Preservation Society and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, planned the Cruise Ship symposium some months ago. Its title is an innocuous "Harboring Tourism: A Symposium on Cruise Ships in Historic Port Communities” but its purpose is probably to continue the battle with the SPA and the City over regulation.

I suspect the announcement of the symposium was greeted by a yawn by most of us in the community. After all, what is there left to say after the numerous meetings, press reports and of course, the drumbeat of P&C editorials? But it is especially surprising that the planners seem undaunted by the reversals dealt to them by DHEC and the judge appointed by the SC Supreme Court to weigh the merits of the suit brought by CCL et al. DHEC approved the addition of new piers to support the new cruise ship terminal and refused an appeal. Seemingly, it was not impressed by the arguments that cruise ships were creating significant pollution. Judge Newman, acting on behalf of the Supreme Court, rejected much of the substance of the claims brought by the suitors. (To describe the legal situation correctly, the petitioners which were Carnival, the SPA and the City sought to have the suit by CCL et al dismissed. In their submission, the petitioners organized their arguments for dismissal into 10 categories. In effect, Judge Newman supported the dismissal of all except those in two of the categories, Public and Private Nuisance).

Judge Newman thought there could be a case in relation to private and public nuisance but stated that he was influenced by the weight of allegations, all of which had to be proved. By inference in dismissing the City’s right to use Zoning to regulate cruise ships, he supported the City’s contention that it did not have the ability to regulate cruise ships. And in our view, the City’s ability to regulate cruise ships was the core of CCL’s suit – and it has been rejected. Judge Newman’s opinion can be seen by pressing Download file.

And in the light of the judge’s comment, why are the P&C and some participants in the symposium still calling for the City to regulate cruise ships?

We’d note that Judge Newman’s comment is an opinion. The Supreme Court may ignore it and it is possible that the Court may hear the full suit. But this seems very unlikely. The Court asked for an opinion and it would be strange for it to reject the opinion.

So what happens now? With some certainty, we expect every critical comment on cruise ships arising from the symposium to make the pages of the P&C. And of course there will be more editorials. And both comments and editorials will have spin. We expect that none of this will affect public opinion, or the position of cruise ships in Charleston.

However, it is still not plain sailing. The CCL and its pals have challenged the decision of the Corp of Army Engineers to approve the construction of the new terminal at Union Pier, a hearing that is unlikely for many months. And then there are the issues before the Supreme Court that Judge Newman thought may have merit. We won’t hazard a guess as to when they may be considered. But in both cases, we don’t think cruise ships are facing head winds. The decision by DHEC must allay some of the pollution fears. And as for the alleged public and private nuisance, the plaintiffs have to prove their allegations. And this could be somewhere between “difficult” and “impossible” in our opinion.

Hopefully the Supreme Court will differ from the P&C who passed judgment on cruise ship pollution simply by running a finger over a window sill. This same test has been applied by many in parts of the city distant from cruise ships and while they were not in port. And the results were no different as to when the ships were in port.

As for sulfur pollution, I‘d refer readers to comments made at the City Council meeting on January 9, 2013. I estimate that sulfur emissions when the new fuel standards come into being in 2015 will amount to less than a 1lb an hour. And considering that ships are in Charleston for only about 20 hours each week, the port is on the extreme eastern edge of the Peninsula, and that about 75% of the time prevailing winds take the emissions away from the Peninsula, there is no risk of significant pollution.

For the record, Marpol standards allow ships in port to burn fuel with 10,000 ppm of sulfur up until the end of 2014. In 2015, sulfur content can be no more than1000 ppm. Clearly emissions now can have 10 times more sulfur than in 2015. But even so, considering winds and time ships spend in port, is it significant pollution?

And then there is the issue of traffic on the Peninsula. As a resident of Ansonborough, I travel the major arteries of the City just about every day. There are difficult traffic conditions and traffic jams at times. But there never seems to be a correlation with cruise ships in port. Certainly there may be lines in roads directly leading to the cruise ship terminal, but I’ve never seen a line inconvenience a traveler on the main roads. In my opinion, public or private nuisance as it relates to traffic, vehicular and pedestrian, will be impossible to prove.

And as for noise, there is the issue of announcements and music broadcast by the cruise ships. We concede that it travels to residences in Ansonborough. But to anybody except an implacable opponent of cruise ships, is it really a nuisance? It occurs mostly about 4 p.m. when ships depart and is never long lasting. It also contrasts with the harsher noise of leaf blowers and chain saws which can begin to fill the air at 7.30 a.m. and continue to dusk.

We wonder whether the opponents of cruise ships really continue to think that they will prevail in the Courts. Members of CCL and the other groups should wonder whether there are better and more certain causes on which to spend money.

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