|The Carnival Fantasy takes on passengers along Charleston Harbor as it prepares to disembark in mid-July 2012. Last week, attorneys made arguments in a lawsuit brought by environmental groups against the cruise line. (Photo/Leslie Burden)|
Published July 16, 2012
Attorneys argued the merits of a lawsuit filed against Carnival Cruise Lines and debated whether cruise operations are a public nuisance, violate local ordinances and require a pollution permit.
The Southern Environmental Law Center filed the lawsuit against Carnival Cruise Lines in June 2011 on behalf of the Historic Ansonborough Neighborhood Association, the Charlestowne Neighborhood Association, the Coastal Conservation League and the Preservation Society of Charleston.
The S.C. State Ports Authority and city of Charleston intervened on behalf of Carnival and asked the state Supreme Court to take original jurisdiction, which it did. In May, the state’s highest court appointed circuit court Judge Clifton Newman as special referee, who heard the arguments in Charleston County court Thursday.
|Among the arguments made during a hearing was whether cruise ships should be required to obtain state environmental permits in addition to EPA permits and if ships could be considered structures under Charleston city law. (Photo/Leslie Burden)|
The plaintiff’s attorneys disagreed, saying there isn’t a South Carolina case that gives public authorities sole power to bring public nuisance claims. Attorneys also argued the neighborhood and conservation groups could still bring a private nuisance claim even though the damages affect a large number of people.
The attorneys then sparred over the cruise industry and local zoning laws, arguing whether the Carnival Fantasy meets the legal definition of a structure, which would affect some of the complaint’s charges.
An attorney for the city said zoning laws apply to buildings with a permanent location on land. If anything tethered to a permanent building constitutes a structure, then bicycles would be structures under the law when they’re locked to buildings.
An attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center addressed the structure argument by citing the city’s law, which says anything attached to something permanently on land is considered a structure. Charleston City Council could have been more specific or included that all structures must have a permanent location, but it didn’t, the attorney said.
Lastly, attorneys argued over whether Carnival needs a permit under the S.C. Pollution Control Act. The defendant’s attorney argued Carnival has a permit from the Environmental Protection Agency and that permit is all that’s required under current law, and the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control does not require ships to apply for and receive a state issued permit.
The plaintiff’s attorney argued the S.C. Pollution Control Act requires entities to get a DHEC permit if they discharge pollution into South Carolina waters, and the state permit would require Carnival to list its discharges.
Judge Newman heard more arguments Friday and will prepare a report for the state Supreme Court, which will rule on the case.