Cruise Ships and You: Applying Lessons Learned
By National Trust Staff | From Forum Bulletin | May 24, 2012 |
When a group of Statewide and Local Partners recently gathered in Charleston to hear Historic Charleston Foundation (HCF), Preservation Society of Charleston (PSC), and the National Trust Charleston Field Office (CFO) discuss cruise ship issues and the Charleston harbor, many were expecting an interesting conversation with little immediate relevance to their own local concerns. Instead, they found a subject with both international implications and local resonance. And, the key methods adopted to address the issue—an economic impact study and a detailed legal review—are useful tools for any location exploring the positive and negative impacts of tourism.
HCF, PSC, and the CFO have always been attentive to the effect of the cruise industry on historical and cultural resources, as well as its economic impact on the city. But, several recent developments have caused them to become more deeply involved. Prior to 2009, Charleston harbor served only as a port of call for cruise ships, meaning cruise-goers would get off the ship to briefly explore the port city. In recent years, Carnival Cruise Lines has made Charleston an origination port, where cruise-goers actually embark and disembark in Charleston, affecting the city in a number of ways. Recently, the South Carolina State Ports Authority (SPA) proposed constructing a new cruise ship terminal, which would have consequences for both the existing terminal area and the surrounding, historically significant neighborhoods. In addition to the increased automotive traffic resulting from more cruise-goers, the ships spend many hours idling in the harbor, spewing exhaust. In addition, the ships dominate the historic skyline and impede views across the harbor because their scale is so outsized.
Does the positive economic impact of the cruise industry outweigh the environmental, cultural, and historical costs? Proponents of the cruise ship development cite positive economic impacts as the primary driver — with one report claiming the creation of more than 400 jobs and a $37 million economic impact annually. However, this report has been widely disputed, in part because of the methodology used. In addition, no one has conducted an analysis of actual costs. Thus, it is impossible to interpret what the $37 million means relative to costs.
Getting the Facts Straight: Economic Impact Study
In efforts to provide a more comprehensive study, the HCF commissioned an impartial analysis of the positive and negative, short-term and long-term, economic, employment, historical, architectural, and cultural impacts of the cruise industry on Charleston. Published by Miley & Associates in April 2012 and funded in part by the National Trust, The Cruise Industry in Charleston: A Clear Perspective uses national and international case studies and examines previous reports’ analyses, statistics, and methodologies to create projections and a comprehensive analysis. Several key findings:
- The cruise industry does produce spending, but much of the money may go to cruise lines rather the local businesses or the city. Instead of than stimulating the local economy, the study projects that the cruise industry may actually compete for tourist dollars.
- Due to the projected increases in traffic and negative cultural and architectural impacts, cruise tourism could end up discouraging visits from Charleston’s traditional tourists, who tend to spend more money in a wider distribution throughout the city and region.
What participants at the Charleston meeting learned is that any town, city, or region that depends on tourism as part of its economy must find ways to calculate the costs and benefits of tourism’s impact. In such cases, preservationists arguing for or against a new transportation hub, visitor’s center, or streetscape modification, can benefit greatly from having a comprehensive, impartial economic impact study conducted. The Cruise Industry in Charleston: A Clear Perspective offers an important example of such a study, one that fellow preservationists can use when creating their own. Read the full study here.
Getting the Full Picture: Legal Review
In addition to their efforts to provide an impartial economic analysis, HCF, the PSC, and the CFO separately and collectively have conducted an extensive evaluation of local ordinances, state regulations, and federal law to understand who has authority over the cruise industry, the port, and its environs, and who is in a position to set enforceable limits or regulations on cruise tourism. They have uniformly concluded that although the cruise industry is subject to interstate and international maritime and commerce laws, cruise ship impacts are not regulated at the Port of Charleston with respect to adverse effects on historic resources. The consequences of this lack of regulation may prove devastating on the historic district. As one preservationist noted, it can be difficult to encourage historic homeowners to adopt a preservation mindset when the cruise ship in their backyard is not subject to the same regulations.
In an effort to secure some local control over the cruise ships, HCF proposed a new local ordinance designed to regulate various elements of the size, scale, and frequency of cruise ships and to mitigate their negative impacts. Mayor Joseph Riley proposed an ordinance whereby the SPA agrees to notify the City one year in advance if it decides to increase cruise ship traffic. Although the City Council adopted the ordinance proposed by the Mayor, it contains no enforceable regulation and thus provides preservationists with no recourse.
In making the case that cruise ship tourism violates existing local ordinances, such as height restrictions and the accommodations overlay zone, the PSC joined two historic neighborhood associations and the Coastal Conservation League as plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the Carnival Corporation. The plaintiffs have also alleged that cruise ship activities create a public and private nuisance, a position the National Trust has supported by filing an amicus curiae brief. The suit is currently pending in the South Carolina Supreme Court. The City and the SPA have intervened in support of Carnival.
State-level regulatory options are similarly sparse. South Carolina has no state laws comparable to Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, or the National Environmental Policy Act, which could bring more oversight to the cruise industry and its impacts. Available options through federal law may offer more hope. For example, the SPA has recently sought state and federal approval to add new pilings under its existing pier in order to convert a warehouse there into a new cruise terminal. The Army Corps has already issued a provisional permit without any consideration of Section 106, pending state approval. Additionally, it may become obligatory to mitigate transportation artery impacts from significantly increased traffic. If any transportation projects are pursued, a Section 4(f) review could offer preservationists a regulatory review role. The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation has been notified about these developments and is in communication with the Corps.
Because cruise tourism affects communities worldwide, it may become subject to new international regulations. In order to bring international focus to the issue, the National Trust is working with the PSC and the World Monuments Fund to host an international symposium of global experts on cruise ship and historic port issues in fall 2012.
The experience in Charleston has shown that preservationists can use economic impact studies, regulatory review, and other research methods to arm themselves against what are almost always better funded, better politically positioned, and better staffed adversaries. To read an extensive history of cruise industry in Charleston, see PSC’s August 2011 Preservation Progress.