CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - More cruise ships will dock in Charleston this month than any other month this year. In the first 12 days of this month, seven have docked downtown.
"You're kind of immersed in what things could be like if we get that number of ships codified,' Katie Zimmerman, the Director of Air, Water and Public Health for the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League said.
Zimmerman and the SCCCL say the cruise ships that dock in the city aren't just a nuisance, they're harmful.
"That's a lot of diesel particulate matter that's very dangerous stuff being spewed out over the city," Zimmerman said.
Supporters of the cruise ships point to studies like the one College of Charleston did in 2010 finding cruises have an economic impact of $37 million each year, but Zimmerman says no one has followed up to see if those numbers are accurate and not just anecdotal.
In 2010, the SC Ports Authority made a verbal agreement that no more than two ships per week would be docked at the Charleston port, but that same year it changed the agreement to a yearly average of two per week, or 104 each year. The same agreement also said that no more than two ships would be docked at the port at the same time except in emergency cases.
In 2012, the SCCCL filed a lawsuit against the SCPA preventing it from building a new terminal that the SCCCL says could allow even more cruise ships without an environmental study or historical preservation study.
"Cruise ships tend to discharge way more pollutants than an individual cargo ship," Zimmerman said. "That's simply because they have to power these engines, burn fuel while they're at shore for everything that's on board. It's basically like a city."
The lawsuit has dragged on for two years now and is currently in an appeals process.
"We never anticipated that this would be a lengthy issue at all," Zimmerman said.
Zimmerman says both parties will likely not be able to present their arguments in court until Spring and a ruling could come months or even a year after that.
The Ports Authority declined an on-camera interview but said Charleston will only see 85 ships this year, below the agreed limit of 104. A spokesperson also said they're working with the US Corps of Engineers on the Union Terminal project and they look forward to completing it.