Union Pier Cruise Terminal


Frequently Asked Questions

Your questions and comments are welcomed.   We hope you will communicate with us and participate in the public meetings. Contact us to get updates and submit comments.

Some of the more frequently asked questions are listed below.

Planning Process and Background:

What is the timeline for the project?

Is there demand for more cruise business in Charleston?

What other cruise cities are similar to Charleston?

How many terminals will there be?

How big will the ships be?

How many ships will be coming to Charleston?

How long will ships stay in Charleston?

What types of passengers will be coming to Charleston?

How can the public participate in the process?

Concept Plan:

Where will the cruise terminal be located?

What does the concept plan include?

Does the concept plan include public access?

How will traffic be addressed?

How have you considered the context of Union Pier related to other plans?

Does the concept plan include additional parking?

What are the next steps for Union Pier redevelopment and the cruise terminal?

What is the timing for the new cruise terminal?

Why is the north end the right location for a cruise terminal?

Where will the current cargo operations move?

What happens next with the Union Pier Concept Plan?

Economic Impact:

What is the economic impact of the cruise industry in the Tri-County area?

Who benefits from the cruise industry?

What environmental regulations exist for the cruise industry?

Are cruise lines meeting those regulations?

Have cruise lines been fined for their environmental practices in the past?

What do cruise ships do with the garbage they generate?

What do cruise ships do with the blackwater and graywater that they generate?

How do cruise ships manage ballast water?

What is being done to reduce air emissions associated with cruise ships and the tug boats they use?

What about shoreside power, or plugging in, the cruise ships while they’re at dock?

What is being done about the emissions from buses idling in the area of the cruise terminal?

What else is the Ports Authority doing to reduce port-related air emissions?

Planning Process and Background:

What’s the timeline for the project?

What’s the timeline for the project? The Ports Authority selected the design team for the project in March 2011 and the design of the new terminal is underway with the public’s involvement. Currently the Ports Authority’s team is finalizing the design for approval by Charleston’s Board of Architectural Review. The new terminal is anticipated to open in mid-2013. Master planning for non-maritime properties (Phase 2) would begin after the opening of the new terminal. (top of page)

Is there a demand for more cruise ship business in Charleston?

Charleston is a very attractive destination for cruise ships from all over the world. In order to meet security requirements and cruise ship customer expectations, we need to modernize and update our one-berth cruise facility. (top of page)

What other cruise cities are comparative to the plans for Charleston?

Baltimore and Norfolk both have one-berth embark/debark facilities. However, Charleston is unique. Even though these cities may be similar, planning must reflect Charleston's distinctive characteristics and attributes. (top of page)

How many terminals will there be?

There will be only one terminal capable of handling one embarking/debarking ship at a time. It is possible that under extraordinary circumstances (such as extreme weather conditions, a ship in distress, etc.), a second ship could be berthed there.  (top of page)

How big will the ships be?

The improved cruise terminal is being planned to serve the same size of ships that currently visit Charleston. (top of page)

How many ships will be coming to Charleston each year?

The number of ships will vary based on business conditions but a single vessel terminal would likely have a maximum capacity of one ship every 3-4 days. Voluntary management measures by the Ports Authority ensure no more than 104 vessels per year. (top of page)

How long do cruise ships stay in Charleston?

Ships typically stay 8 to 12 hours per call whether embark/debark (leaving from Charleston) or port of call (a stop on the cruise). Cruise vessels will typically arrive in the morning and depart late afternoon. (top of page)

What types of passengers/visitors will be coming through our city for cruises?

Much like our local tourism industry, Charleston enjoys a great diversity in the target demographics of its cruise business. From the highest-end ships afloat, to family-oriented cruises, to value trips, to expeditionary visits, cruise ships visiting Charleston cover many demographics. International visitors and domestic cruisers from 41 states have arrived or sailed on cruises in Charleston Harbor. Our surveys show that about a third of cruise passengers spend at least one night here, half visit attractions and eat in local restaurants, and almost all of then say they plan to return. (top of page)

How can the public participate in the process?

Public participation is encouraged and welcomed throughout the design process.  Email us in our Feedback section, and you’ll receive notification of public meetings and other news. A new Facebook page has also been created for ongoing updates and news. Also, you can email questions and comments at any time by going to Feedback.  (top of page)


Concept Plan:

Where will the cruise terminal be located?

After extensive study and community input, the new cruise terminal will be located at the northern portion of the Union Pier property.  This location will best mitigate traffic, and there is an existing structure that can very appropriately be converted to an attractive cruise terminal, reflecting the character of historic Charleston. (top of page)

What does the concept plan include?

The concept plan has several distinct components.

First, it restores the historic granite wharf that once led to the Custom House and the foot of Market Street.  That area would once again be tied appropriately to the historic Market Street axis and provide substantial public space that will attract residents and visitors alike.

Second, the concept plan also would also restore a green, natural shoreline approximately twice the length of the Waterfront Park and would create a beautiful setting and vistas that no one has seen in more than 40 years.

Finally, the concept plan provides the opportunity to create additional uses of the property that may be some combination of residential, commercial and public use.  (top of page)

Does the concept plan include public access?

Yes. The concept plan includes the restoration of a green, natural shoreline approximately twice the length of the Waterfront Park. Additionally, the area at the foot of Market Street, an area currently active only when cruise ships are in town (less than 70 days a year), will become vibrant and accessible for residents and visitors to enjoy 365 days a year. (top of page)

How will traffic be addressed?

While the new terminal mitigates traffic and ends the street closure on Concord Street, the Ports Authority has in place traffic measures for its current cruise operation. We have worked closely with the City Police Department to create new way-finding and signage, route traffic east on the peninsula, and get traffic off City streets and onto our property as soon as possible. Those actions have dramatically reduced traffic problems. We have also worked to communicate with the community by posting details of upcoming cruise ship visits on our website, and sending email notices as well. (top of page)

How have you considered the context of Union Pier related to other plans?

The plan for Union Pier needs to be contextual with the rest of the Charleston peninsula.  Our planning team has worked very closely with the City of Charleston, and has studied traffic patterns and flow as well as other plans for the downtown Charleston area. (top of page)

Does the concept plan include additional parking?

The cruise terminal area includes surface parking specifically for cruise passengers. Other areas of the property could be used for additional parking, which will be determined as planning continues. (top of page)

What are the next steps for Union Pier redevelopment and the cruise terminal?

In March 2011, the Ports Authority Board selected CH2M Hill, along with a team of local companies, to lead the design of the new cruise terminal. We have also established a Cruise Neighbors Advisory Council, including individuals in the neighborhoods closest to our terminal: Historic Ansonborough Neighborhood Association, Charlestowne Neighborhood Association, Garden District, Gadsden Wharf, French Quarter and Peninsular Neighborhood Consortium.(top of page)

What is the timing for the new cruise terminal?

Design of the new terminal is currently underway, with the public’s involvement informing the process. Final design and conversion of the new terminal location is anticipated to begin late next year, with the new cruise terminal opening by the end of 2012. (top of page)

Why is the north end the right location for a cruise terminal?

There are many benefits to moving the cruise terminal to the northern end, as the community encouraged us to consider during our planning process. Benefits include eliminating all cargo operations on the Union Pier property, reducing traffic impacts, and opening the southern portion of the terminal for public and other non-maritime uses.(top of page)

Where will the current cargo operations move?

The current cargo operations at Union Pier Terminal are being relocated to other Ports Authority facilities.(top of page)

What happens next with the Union Pier Concept Plan?

The Concept Plan is contingent on the relocation of our passenger terminal to the northern end of Union Pier.  That will unlock the southern portion of the property for public uses and other uses.  The Concept Plan provides a guideline, a series of possibilities. What ultimately becomes a reality will be greatly determined by the community and the marketplace. (top of page)


Economic Impact:

What is the economic impact of the cruise industry in the Tri-County area?

A study done by College of Charleston professors Dr. John Crotts and Dr. Frank Hefner estimates the total economic output at more than $37 million for the Tri-County area. This estimate includes approximately 407 jobs to the area that contribute $16.2 million in salaries and wages and $3.5 million in state sales and income taxes.  More detailed results of the study can be viewed here.  (top of page)

Who benefits from the cruise industry?

Local businesses benefit from the cruise industry. Passenger surveys indicate that about one-third of the cruise ship passengers spend at least one night here, and about half of them visit attractions and patronize local restaurants. And almost all of them say they will return to Charleston. Research has also shown that they like to stay in local places and eat at local restaurants. Check out the 'Cruise Charleston' Facebook page to see the local support we have received from neighbors and local businesses in Charleston. (top of page)

What environmental regulations exist for the cruise industry?

The environmental standards that apply to the cruise line industry are primarily international environmental standards set by the International Maritime Organization (IMO). All ships operating in waters subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, regardless of where they are flagged, and must comply with all U. S. environmental laws. (top of page)

Are cruise lines meeting those regulations?

Most cruise lines go above and beyond the regulations. They have collectively and voluntarily set strict environmental standards and practices that exceed even U.S. and international laws through their international trade organization, CLIA (Cruise Lines International Association). All major cruise lines calling the Port of Charleston are members of this organization. In addition, over the past five years, cruise lines have spent an average of $2 million per ship on new environmental technologies and retrofits. (top of page)

Have cruise lines been fined for their environmental practices in the past?

There have been violations of environmental laws involving cruise lines in the past. These incidents served as an important wake-up call, causing the industry to redouble its efforts to improve its environmental performance. These incidents also demonstrate that the international cruise industry is strictly accountable to U.S. environmental enforcement agencies and subject to severe penalties if violations do occur. (top of page)

What do cruise ships do with the garbage they generate?

In order to minimize the amount of waste generated, cruise lines have aggressively implemented waste management programs that actually reduce the creation of waste.  In the last 10 years alone, cruise ships have cut waste and garbage almost in half, despite a growth in cruise capacity averaging 7.6% annually.  In addition, according to the EPA, the U.S. population recycles an average of 28% of its waste per year.  Cruise ships are reducing their waste stream and still recycling anywhere from 25-80%, depending on the ship -- significantly higher than that of most local communities.  This further reduces the amount of waste that requires disposal.

Garbage generated on board cruise ships is governed by The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) Annex V and its provisions are implemented in the U.S. by the Marine Plastic Pollution Research and Control Act of 1987. Through regular shipboard inspections, U.S. Coast Guard inspectors ensure that proper waste management technology and procedures are in place.

Trash generated aboard a cruise ship is carefully segregated in order to increase recycling and donations and to reduce incineration on-board and disposal ashore.  Cruise ships generate a limited amount of hazardous waste, such as photo processing wastes and paints/solvents, which are landed ashore at licensed and permitted facilities.  The disposal of plastics anywhere at sea is prohibited by international regulations and the disposal of anything within three miles of the coast (even a local boater’s boiled peanut shells) is prohibited by federal law. (top of page)

What do cruise ships do with the blackwater and graywater that they generate?

According to federal regulations under the Clean Water Act and international standards, black water, the wastewater from toilets, urinals, and medical sinks, must either be treated by an approved Marine Sanitation Device (MSD) that is certified, approved and inspected by the U.S. Coast Guard, or discharged outside of 12 miles from land.  This is another instance where CLIA members have adopted a tougher standard.  CLIA members have agreed that all black water will be processed through an MSD, certified in accordance with U.S. or international regulations, prior to discharge at least four miles from shore at a speed of six knots.  In addition, as a matter of practice, the cruise lines that embark from Charleston have already voluntarily committed that their treated wastewater will only be discharged when the ship is more than 12 miles from shore.

In addition, many of the member lines have pioneered the development of, and many ships are equipped with, advanced wastewater treatment technology that treats wastewater beyond the capability of most land-based wastewater treatment facilities.

Graywater is the wastewater from the sinks, showers, galleys, laundry, and cleaning activities aboard a ship. The EPA regulates graywater under the Vessel General Permit (VGP), which is a subsection of the Clean Water Act. The VGP requires gray water to be discharged outside of 3 miles from land, unless the vessel meets certain criteria or follows specific requirements. CLIA members have proactively adopted a standard of prohibiting these discharges within four (4) miles of shore. Within the scope of the VGP, cruise ships are allowed to discharge gray water within 4 miles, if they meet or exceed the VGP criteria. (top of page)

How do cruise ships manage ballast water?

Cruise ships only take on ballast water for the safety of the ship, providing balance to the vessel as it gets lighter, typically from the fuel used during a voyage. Therefore, the volume of ballast water on cruise ships is very small. Also, very little if any refueling is typically done in Charleston, further minimizing the need for discharging ballast water. Open ocean exchange of ballast water, and required reporting, is one means to reduce the risks of invasive species introduction. In addition, both the EPA and the U.S. Coast Guard are seeking to establish new regulations on ballast water exchange and discharge. The international shipping industry is also researching and experimenting with other technologies to deal with ballast water treatment into the future. (top of page)

What is being done to reduce air emissions associated with cruise ships and the tug boats they use?

Cruise ships actually don’t require tug boats. Cruise ships are equipped with a number of thrusters designed for propulsion and navigation of the ship, allowing self-docking and eliminating the need for tug boats under normal circumstances.

To address emissions from the cruise ships themselves, in October 2008 the IMO's Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) agreed to revise and strengthen the emission standards in Annex VI and reduce the amount of sulfur in ship’s fuel. The revised law will enter force in July 2010. The current global limit on sulfur in marine fuels is 4.5 per cent. Under the revised Annex this limit will fall in two stages to 3.5 per cent in 2012, and finally to 0.5 per cent in 2020 subject to a review in 2018. (top of page)

What about shoreside power, or plugging in, the cruise ships while they’re at dock?

Given the current technology, costs and trade-offs, shorepower does not seem to offer an attractive environmental benefit at this time.  However, we will continue to monitor the technology in the future as it improves and develops.

The electric load required to support a cruise ship while at dock is significant.  This electricity has to come from the grid, so the emissions from the associated power plant and available capacity have to be considered.

While two cruise terminals on the West Coast have installed shore side plug-in capabilities for ships, shoreside power is a very new and very costly technology.  It can cost up to $10 million to retrofit a berth and $1-2 million for each ship.

On March 26, the IMO designated a 230-mile area around the U.S. coast as an Emission Control Area (ECA), dramatically reducing ship-related emissions and eliminating the need to consider shore power. The EPA estimates this move reduces sulfur content in fuel by 98% – cuts particulate matter by 85%, and NOx by 80%. The new standards go into effect in 2011, with implementations in 2012 and 2015. (top of page)

What is being done about the emissions from buses idling in the area of the cruise terminal?

The Ports Authority has initiated a voluntary anti-idling campaign to reduce vehicle emissions associated with all of its terminals.  This will be expanded to include new initiatives related to buses and the cruise terminal. (top of page)

What else is the Ports Authority doing to reduce port-related air emissions?

By moving the passenger terminal to the Union Pier property's northern end, we will also relocate all of the cargo operations that exist there. That means eliminating about 200 cargo ships, trains, train tracks, and related trucks and cars will be moved away from Union Pier. This will unlock the possibility to make the southern portion of the Union Pier property available for public and other uses. (top of page)

Broad map of area