Groups to pay ports authority in cruise terminal lawsuit

By Liz Segrist
Published March 5, 2014

Several local groups that sued to block state permitting for a new cruise terminal in downtown Charleston will pay the S.C. State Ports Authority $9,300 in legal fees, according to court records.

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S.C. Administration Law Court Judge Ralph Anderson III ruled that the group of conservationists, preservationists and neighborhood groups were in violation of court Rule 72.

The rule states that if “the presiding administrative law judge determines that a contested case, appeal, motion, or defense is frivolous or taken solely for purposes of delay, the judge may impose such sanctions as the circumstances of the case and discouragement of like conduct in the future may require.”

Anderson also denied the coalition’s request to gather more evidence in the case. Anderson’s decision could expedite the ports authority’s plan to upfit an old warehouse at Union Pier into a cruise terminal for Carnival Cruise Lines. The lawsuit stalled construction.

In December 2012, the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control’s Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management issued the permit authorizing the ports authority to make improvements to a building for a new cruise terminal at Union Pier.

The environmental and historical groups filed in February 2013 to contest the merits of DHEC’s decision to issue the permit. The groups said DHEC did not extensively review the cruise issue and terminal impacts before issuing the permit.

In March 2013, counsel for the ports authority consulted with the coalitions’ counsel saying that the “motion was frivolous” and the ports authority would seek sanctions if the plaintiffs did not withdraw the motion, according to court documents.

The plaintiffs did not withdraw their motion. In May, the Administration Law Court ruled the motion had no basis in law, according to documents.

In the March 3 ruling, the court ordered the petitioners to pay the sanctions to the ports authority by March 13. The petitioners include the Preservation Society of Charleston, the Historic Charleston Foundation, the Historic Ansonborough Neighborhood Association, the Coastal Conservation League, Charlestowne Neighborhood Association, the Charleston chapter of the Surfrider Foundation and Charleston Communities for Cruise Control.

This is one of three lawsuits that have involved the cruise operations in downtown Charleston in recent years.

The state Supreme Court threw out a lawsuit in January that alleged Carnival Cruise Lines’ operations in downtown Charleston were a nuisance to city residents.

In September, U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel ordered the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Charleston District to redo its study of the permit for the new cruise terminal. Gergel wants the Army Corps to study how the cruise terminal project could affect the residents and nearby historic neighborhoods.

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

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