Charleston cruise ship controversy in the national spotlight

From the NYT’s “Not in My Port, Charleston’s Cruise Ship Opponents Say”:

In this Southern coastal city that runs on history and hospitality, a raucous civic debate belies a genteel veneer.

Like several communities that hug the nation’s coastline, Charleston is struggling to balance the economic benefits of cruise ships against their cultural and environmental impact.

Last week’s debacle aboard Carnival Cruise Lines’ Triumph, in which an engine fire stranded 4,200 people in the Gulf of Mexico for five days, has done little to deter those civic leaders who believe that building a new $35 million cruise terminal will be a great boon for this port city.

But for people like Jay Williams, a homeowner in the historic district who writes a blog for Charleston Communities for Cruise Control, a preservationist group, the nightmare on the Triumph is one more piece of evidence in the case against a fast-growing form of travel.

And there, in a nutshell, is the debate that will heat up in Savannah over the next couple of years, if a study determines that we are even viable as a cruise ship terminal location. (My guess is that the heavy commercial traffic on the Savannah River — predicted to get far heavier in the coming decades — will preclude the possibility of cruise ships here, but that’s just a guess.)

The battle over cruise ships is largely one about “crowding out”.

In other words, if we devote a big stretch of riverfront to a cruise ship terminal and skew the downtown economy toward accommodating the cruise ship riders (and their cars), what other development will be pre-empted? What will happen to the downtown residential population and to quality of life? How will the cruise ship tourists — arriving in waves — impact our tourist-dependent businesses? Will an emphasis on cruise ships hurt efforts to bring higher-spending cultural tourists to town?

I posted about some of these issues a couple of weeks ago after a conference — held in Charleston — about historic seaports.

SavannahRed has a really interesting blog post up this week — “The Savannah Cruise Shake” — emphasizing the need for balanced debate about costs and benefits.

There have been a number of mentions in the press lately of Mobile, where Carnival pulled out after the city funded a terminal. As Adam Van Brimmer notes on his blog at SavannahNow, that terminal found a use this week: as the dock for the crippled cruise ship that leads off the NYT’s piece.

This is not a cruise ship, but I bet some ads for cruises will appear on this page: