Ports Authority appeals judge’s decision on cruise terminal study

By Liz Segrist
lsegrist@scbiznews.com
Published Oct. 21, 2013

The S.C. Ports Authority plans to appeal a federal judge’s order that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must redo its study that permitted a new cruise terminal in downtown Charleston.

The Ports Authority filed Thursday its notice of intent to appeal the Sept. 18 U.S. District Court order concerning the Corps’ authorization to construct five additional pile clusters under Building 322 of the ports authority’s Union Pier Terminal.

“By filing the notice of appeal to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, the Ports Authority is proceeding with the process provided by law for a new review of the Corps’ authorization for the additional pilings at its marine terminal,” said Ports Authority Spokeswoman Erin Pabst in an emailed statement.

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U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel ordered the Army Corps to redo its study last month, saying that the Army Corps didn’t study all of the potential impacts on the surrounding historic neighborhoods and environment when deciding to permit the new cruise terminal.

The Army Corps of Engineers awarded a permit last year to construct the $35 million terminal at Union Pier.

In July, the Southern Environmental Law Center filed the lawsuit in federal court against the Army Corps on behalf of the Preservation Society of Charleston and the Coastal Conservation League.

The terminal and the cruise industry’s expansion to Charleston met some resistance from community groups and environmentalists, who cited increased pollution, tourists and traffic congestion as potential negative impacts on Charleston’s historic downtown.

Proponents touted its potential positive economic impact on the city, access to offshore vacations for nearby residents, and the relatively small number of cruise ships making visits to Charleston.

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control issued the permit for the cruise terminal in December, allowing the ports authority to install five pilings into the northern end of Union Pier, the location of the new cruise terminal.

The pilings will be used to support three elevators and two escalators. The permit also allows the ports authority to modify Building 322, a warehouse that will become the terminal.

The permit also included a special condition that operations for the passenger terminal follow the voluntary guidelines agreed to by the city of Charleston and the ports authority.

According to the guidelines, cruise ship calls will not be more than 104 per year; the port will host one ship at a time at the terminal; and each cruise ship will hold between 1,900 and 3,500 passengers, similar in size to cruise ships that have called on Charleston.

The permit also calls for the ports authority to notify DHEC of any changes to the voluntary agreement, and those notifications must be made at least one year before the changes take effect.

Reach Liz Segrist at 843-849-3119.

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