Image: Celebrity Mercury
Bruce Smith  /  AP
The Celebrity Mercury cruise liner makes a port call in Charleston, S.C., on Monday, Jan. 25.
updated 1/26/2010 11:53:41 AM ET 2010-01-26T16:53:41

As South Carolina's cruise industry expands, some worry more ships and people could hurt the charm that draws visitors to Charleston in the first place.

The South Carolina Coastal Conservation League is concerned that the ships bring in too many people too quickly, causing congestion and pollution. The environmental group is suggesting officials approve rules to further regulate the industry.

"What a lot of businesses rely on is keeping that small, historic, unique sense of place that is Charleston," said Katie Zimmerman, a project manager with the group.

"What does that do when you start bringing people in on these giant cruise ships? When you look at the cruise ship and see it on the skyline, it's a wall and you can see it from everywhere," she added.

The South Carolina State Ports Authority is working with the city on redeveloping its existing cruise terminal and 55-acre tract around the terminal and Union Pier on the Charleston Cooper River waterfront.

Officials say a modern cruise terminal is needed to handle the growing cruise business. Beginning this spring, Carnival Cruise Lines will base its 2,056-passenger Carnival Fantasy in Charleston.

On Monday, the Celebrity Mercury, which carries more than 1,800 passengers, made a port call in the city on its way to Key West. Fla.

Ports Authority CEO Jim Newsome has said the agency will work with the cruise companies and the city to mitigate impacts of additional cruises.

"We will also continue to work with the community to ensure Charleston gains the economic benefits of the cruise ship industry while maintaining the city's character and quality," he wrote in a recent op-ed article.

The Conservation League is suggesting the city limit cruise ships to one arrival at a time, and cap the number of passengers and the heights of the vessels.

Plans for a new cruise terminal include having only one berth for ships so there would only be one there at a time, said Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr.

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"I'm confident that what we're working on with the Ports Authority will balance and scale," the mayor added, noting the authority expects about 70 cruise calls a year — a little more than one a week.

"I think that's just right," he said. "A port city ought to have cruise ships as a natural thing. You want ports and waterfronts to be real activity."

Authority spokesman Byron Miller said the cruise business is a small but important part of tourism in the city.

"This year Charleston will have 4.2 million visitors. The cruise ship business this year will have 100,000," he said.

He said cruise lines don't want to destroy the charm that makes Charleston an attraction.

Charleston will have 67 cruise ship calls this year among the more than 2,000 container and other ships which stop at the state's ports. A city like Key West, he said, has more than 400 cruise calls a year.

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