Environmental groups continue to weigh in on Union Pier Plans

He says the Coastal Conservation League has been involved in the talk of redevelopment for years, weighing in with environmental expertise.
Published: May. 16, 2023 at 5:57 PM EDT|Updated: May. 16, 2023 at 6:11 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The Coastal Conservation League, among other advocate groups are hosting meetings throughout the month to continue discussions about the future of Union Pier.

Union Pier is 65 acres and sits in Charleston Harbor, and conservationists and historians are actively advocating for a variety of measures in its redevelopment.

As of now, the Port Authority is looking at selling the land to create a mixed-use district. The plans include the addition of affordable housing, retail, commercial and office space.

Robert Maynor is the Communities and Transportation Program Director at the Coastal Conservation League. He says they decided to host a webinar Tuesday to inform people about the development process and explain the environmental impacts of the proposed plan.

He says the Coastal Conservation League has been involved in the talk of redevelopment for years, weighing in with environmental expertise. Maynor is looking forward to many of the changes.

“The site will now only be used for port of call cruise operations. It is one good step. I think also the dedication to open space in preserving historic elements like the Rice Mill facade, those are good steps that are taking a holistic approach to the site and making sure that there are that we’re not just totally changing the fabric of that area,” Maynor says.

His concerns lie in a few specifics. He says the league wants to see guaranteed walkability and access to public transit in the parks. We’re still seeing really not sufficient open space incorporated into the site.

“We want to see more open space on high ground, more public access to the waterfront, assurances that these parks and other sites are not going to be closed to the public, for private events or that sort of thing,” Maynor says.

They also want to see a commitment to build shore power for docking cruise ships. Shore power is, is having infrastructure so that the ships can plug into the grid on the land side to run their operations while they are docked. Maynor says having shore power is becoming the industry standard and should be included in the plan.

“Not have shore power, and we do not at Union here right now, those ships are idling with their engines running all the time, which is emitting toxic pollutants into the air and having negative impacts on communities all around that site, really all throughout the city,” Maynor explains.

Lastly, the league is advocating for a comprehensive stormwater plan. Maynor says they fear the proposal to bring in fill dirt under a lot of big buildings will disrupt runoff and create issues if not holistically addressed.

“We want to make sure not only that there are really, you know, proven innovative stormwater techniques used, but also that there are long term funding and maintenance provisions for that so that the city in its taxpayers are not on the hook. Down the road to pay for stormwater infrastructure improvements or flooding concerns,” he says.

The port authority maintains that they are working with the public to create a beneficial space, explaining that the Bennet Rice Mill Façade will be a centerpiece and there will be opportunities for fishing and increased access to water with parks linked by paths.

The Preservation Society and Historic Charleston Foundation are also vocal advocates for a thorough redevelopment of Union Pier. The Historic Charleston Foundation also has an upcoming event. Click here for more information.