SC Ports: Appeals court should let state permit stand for $35M Charleston cruise terminal

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CHARLESTON, South Carolina — The South Carolina Court of Appeals should let stand a state permit for a $35 million cruise terminal in Charleston, attorneys for the South Carolina Ports Authority argue.

Attorneys on Wednesday filed a 64-page brief in response to a challenge to the permit brought by terminal opponents including neighborhood, preservation and conservation groups.

The terminal, proposed almost five years ago, has been the subject of lawsuits in both state and federal courts. It would replace an aging facility and handle cruises now that Carnival Cruise Lines has based its 2,056-passenger liner Fantasy in the city.

The permit issued by the Department of Health and Environmental Control allows the driving of five additional clusters of piles beneath an old waterfront warehouse that will be renovated as the new terminal. There are now 1,008 pile clusters beneath the building just up the waterfront from the existing terminal.

State Administrative Law Judge Ralph K. Anderson ruled last April that opponents, who contend the new terminal will hurt property values, the quality of life downtown and increase pollution, lacked standing to appeal the permit.

Terminal opponents are appealing his decision to the Court of Appeals.

Under the law, there is no injury when a party "merely alleges harm indistinguishable from the general public," attorney Chad Johnston notes in the Ports Authority response.

"Cruise opponents try to argue that rejecting the license will alleviate their alleged injuries because even existing cruise operations at Union Pier will cease," he wrote. "This is wrong: both cruise and marine terminal operations of similar scope and size will continue on Union Pier if the license is denied."

Once the terminal is built at the old warehouse site, the authority wants to redevelop 35 acres of waterfront in the Union Pier area where the present terminal stands. Warehouses and fences will be removed and the plan is to create a mixed-use area with residences, businesses and parks.

Johnston wrote that if the permit is denied, the land will continue in use as docks receiving both cruise liners and over 200 cargo vessels a year.

"The practical result of the cruise opponents' position is maintaining the status quo, which provides a worse outcome versus adoption of the Ports Authority's capital improvement plan," he wrote.

A federal permit for the terminal was tossed out in 2013 when U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel ruled the Army Corps of Engineers considered only the impact of new pilings in the water and not the larger impact of the new terminal on the city's historic district.

The Ports Authority notified the Corps last summer it is renewing its request for the permit and the Corps has said its review will be more extensive than when the agency initially approved the project in April 2012.

The Department of Health and Environmental Control has been given until next month to file its response to the terminal opponents' appeal of its permit.

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