Not everybody wants a cruise ship in their back yard

When cruise ships come to town it means big business for local merchants. Just ask Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, both on the blacklist of one cruise line or another. Either city would love to have cruise ships calling regularly but concern over the safety of passengers has some lines skipping the ports. Contrast that with Charleston, South Carolina where a group of local residents along with some environmental and historical preservation groups are suing to keep them away.

Opposing forces include National Trust for Historic Preservation who warned Charleston that its growing cruise industry is threatening the city’s historic character, placing it on “watch” status.

“We believe that the past preservation work in Charleston has made this community a national treasure and we are willing to dedicate resources to address questions about the impact of cruise tourism” Stephanie Meeks, the president of the trust told the Associated Press earlier this month.

Also opposing cruise ships is environmental group the Coastal Conservation League, the Preservation Society of Charleston and the Ansonborough and Charlestowne neighborhoods. They have filed a lawsuit against Carnival Corporation, parent to Carnival Cruise Lines who operates the Carnival Fantasy year-round from Charleston.They allege cruises are a public nuisance, violate the South Carolina Pollution Control Act, amount to illegal hotel operations and that Carnival’s signature red, white and blue funnel violates city sign ordinances.

The concern is not new for the Coastal Conservation League who posted this YouTube video over a year ago in March of 2010.

The Coastal Conservation League has a laundry list of “What Charleston Deserves” on it’s website too. The list includes prohibition of waste discharge within 3 miles of port, limits on the numbers and size of ships calling annually, a code that allows only one ship to dock at a time, a per-passenger fee paid to the city and a requirement to use plug-in power when at berth among other requirements.

“The question isn’t whether the cruise ship industry will operate in Charleston; the question is how,” Blan Holman, with the Southern Environmental Law Center told “The plaintiffs are members of the community who believe the cruise industry should abide by standards just like every other business does.”

On the other side of the issue, business leaders struggling with a recovering economy disagree. They gathered on the pier at Charleston’s Waterfront Park Monday with the Carnival Fantasy as a backdrop to denounce the lawsuit and show support for Charleston’s proposed new passenger terminal. Calling the lawsuit a “frivolous attack on the free enterprise system, the region’s economy and Charleston’s ports” business leaders sounded off.

“This is just the first shot in the attempt to dismantle the Port of Charleston,” said Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce Chairman Bobby Pearce.

“This is ridiculous,” said Steve Carroll, speaking for the Charleston Restaurant Association. “We’re trying to survive.”

Those in support of the new terminal say it will bring much needed money and that the cruise business already adds an estimated $37 million in the region annually.

While Carnival has been silent on the issue and not responded to the lawsuit, they did release this video in May of last year when Carnival Fantasy came to make Charleston it’s home port indicating the then newly-remodeled ship was well-received by business leaders on board the inaugural visit.

Looking forward to sailing from Charleston, Senior Cruise Director John Heald noted of the newly remodeled Carnival Fantasy “This is a ship reborn and what a great place to let it be reborn: Charleston, South Carolina”

While this issue seems far from resolved, Carnival probably doesn’t have much to worry about. A number of other cities including Brownsville, Texas and Savannah, Georgia would love to have a year-round cruise ship…not to mention a number of ports in Mexico.