The latest column from Charleston City Paper columnist Bryan Crabtree on cruise ships included suggestions in line with those put forth by numerous locals and organizations representing them, including the Coastal Conservation League.
Most people in Charleston seek a good balance whereby cruises can continue, but with standards in place to protect the health of local families and our environment as well as the strength of our economy, which relies greatly on protecting historic assets.
The drive to establish standards for cruise operations in historic cities is happening not just in Charleston. Venice, Italy, Key West, Fla., Dubrovnik, Croatia, and others are wrestling with the same concerns. Given the unprecedentedly large scale of the cruise ships and the thousands of people cruise operations bring into small, densely populated areas, it's imperative that communities such as Charleston hasten to protect unique historic sites via enforceable standards for cruise ships, just as we support standards for other things, from tour buses to horse carriages.
It is beyond odd that cruise operations are seemingly the one business exempt from standards. This may reflect the cruise industry's success in avoiding other rules and requirements. For example, Carnival Cruise Lines — which has had a cruise ship in operation in Charleston since 2010 — pays no taxes here and doesn't even have a business license. Why should a highly profitable company like Carnival, which is incorporated in Panama, not have to abide by standards that apply to everyone else in Charleston?
Conservation groups, including the Coastal Conservation League, agree with Mr. Crabtree that Charleston cruise ships should use shore power to reduce the impact of concentrated diesel soot pollution on local families. Cruise ships do this in other ports even when the law doesn't require it.
The League has also asked that records of cruise discharges be made available for public review. But when we asked Carnival if the company would consider notifying local citizens of what they are dumping in the water, a League representative was told that it was "frankly none of [our] business what Carnival does in [South Carolina's] waterways."
Neither the League nor anyone else is asking for limits on cargo ships since they don't emit nearly as much pollution as a cruise ship, and they don't bring thousands of cars and passengers into a gridlocked historic district. Like Mr. Crabtree, we support looking at alternative locations for a cruise terminal, an inquiry that so far has been stifled by the State Ports Authority.
People are tired of an all-or-nothing debate about cruise ships. They want solutions and options for achieving a healthy balance. The League has been pushing for those options for several years, but so far the proponents of unregulated cruise operations have acted as if engaging with loyal citizens is akin to dealing with terrorists.
So long as those pushing unmitigated cruise operations take an our-way-or-the-highway approach, Charlestonians — conservative and otherwise — will continue to feel frustrated and continue to ask that other options be explored.
Mr. Crabtree is to be applauded for proposing one option, and we stand ready to engage with him and any other interested persons in reaching a solution that works for everyone. As he should know, the question for our community is not the one he asked in conducting his informal poll on social media. On his Facebook page, he asked his followers if we should "allow the cruise industry to grow in Charleston or push them away?" The real question is whether or not cruise operations, like every other business here, should abide by limits and standards and find a healthy balance.
We applaud Mr. Crabtree's call for examining alternative methods of basing very large cruise ships in the most congested and historic part of our entire region. There is no sense in polarizing people when most folks have coalesced around this reasonable middle ground.
Katie Zimmerman is the Coastal Conservation League's director of the Air, Water, and Public Health Program. Her areas of expertise include environmental justice, community empowerment, and water quality.