SPA, Army Corps of Engineers to withdraw cruise terminal permit appeal

By Liz Segrist 
lsegrist@scbiznews.com
Published Jan. 7, 2014

The S.C. State Ports Authority and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are withdrawing their appeal of a judge’s decision that stalled a cruise terminal permit in downtown Charleston.

In September, U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel ruled that the Army Corps would have to redo its study, since it did not fully review the impact the cruise industry and terminal would have on both the city’s historic district and the area’s environment.

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The Army Corps and ports authority filed a joint notice of their withdrawal of the appeal on Monday with the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va. They were scheduled to meet with attorneys today. The U.S. Department of Justice also dropped the appeal of the 2013 court order.

The matter now goes back to the Army Corps for consideration of the cruise terminal.

“Now that the decision not to appeal has been finalized, the Corps will further consider the appropriate scope, parameters and process for reviewing the cruise terminal construction on Union Pier consistent with the remand from the U.S. District Court, and communicate this information to the SPA to enable their decision of how and when to proceed as project proponent,” Army Corps Spokesman Sean McBride said in an emailed statement.

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.

“It’s too bad we had to resort to litigation to get here, but the good news is that the public now will have the chance to weigh in on how and where cruise operations should continue in the Charleston region,” said Blan Holman, a Southern Environmental Law Center attorney representing the plaintiffs. “It’s never too late to get something this important right."

The Corps’ permit had authorized construction of five additional pile clusters under Building 322 of the ports authority’s Union Pier Terminal in preparation of the new cruise terminal.

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

Following the withdrawal, the ports authority plans to reserve its legal concerns regarding the District Court’s decision for later review, if necessary, following additional action by the Corps, Authority Spokeswoman Erin Pabst said in an emailed statement.

“We respect the Corps’ decision with regard to the appeal and accordingly are withdrawing our appeal. ... We look forward to the next steps in consultation with the Corps relative to successfully renovating an existing warehouse into a replacement passenger terminal,” Pabst said.

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.

Reach Liz Segrist at 843-849-3119 or on Twitter @lizsegrist.

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