Judges tosses out lawsuit challenging cruise terminal

By Liz Segrist
lsegrist@scbiznews.com
Published April 11, 2014

A state judge recently threw out a cruise terminal lawsuit that attempted to block plans for a new cruise terminal in downtown Charleston, according to court documents.

S.C. Administration Law Court Judge Ralph Anderson III ruled on a motion for summary judgment that a group of conservationists, preservationists and neighborhood groups did not have enough grounds to challenge the planned $35 million cruise terminal.

The suit surrounded the S.C. Ports Authority’s plans to upfit an old warehouse at Union Pier into a cruise terminal. The groups filed last year to block state permitting of the terminal. The lawsuit stalled construction for more than a year.

Anderson granted the motion for summary judgment for lack of standing, according to a ports authority statement.

Blan Holman, senior attorney at Southern Environmental Law Center, said the group is working with its clients about an immediate appeal. Holman said the court’s decision shows that citizens cannot defend themselves from pollution from the cruise ships.

“The court theorized that building a $35 million terminal designed to home-base much larger cruise ships won’t lead to larger cruise ships coming there,” Holman said in a statement.

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 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 on surrounding neighborhoods 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.

More recently, Judge Anderson ordered the groups in March to pay the ports authority $9,300 in legal fees, according to court records. Anderson ruled that the groups were objecting the permit solely to delay the project.

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, which is ongoing.

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

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