CHARLESTON — Environmental and preservation groups suing over a $35 million Charleston cruise terminal say there is no way putting new pilings beneath an old waterfront warehouse being renovated for the project can be considered simply maintenance work and the project will affect areas well beyond the waterfront.
“The record overwhelmingly demonstrates that construction of a new home terminal for 10-story high, 1,000-foot long cruise ships in the heart of the best-preserved city in the United States has at least the potential for impacts on historic properties and the human environment,” attorney Blan Holman writes in court documents filed late Monday.
Holman, of the Southern Environmental Law Center, represents plaintiffs who say the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers should have, under federal law, studied the impact of the project more completely before issuing a permit last year allowing the South Carolina State Ports Authority to put in the pilings.
But, in asking U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel to rule in the corps’ favor without a trial, Assistant U.S. Attorney John Douglas said more extensive studies were not required because the pilings are simply a maintenance project on an existing site.
“Notwithstanding newspaper articles showing that the expansion of the cruise activity in Charleston has generated heated public debate, the policy trade-offs associated with tourism are decidedly local considerations that fall outside the purview of the corps,” he wrote.
He said the corps correctly concluded that adding five clusters of pilings under the warehouse for an elevator for the new terminal was maintenance and affects only .01 acres of the waters of the United States.
The arguments were made in motions for summary judgment obtained by The Associated Press. A November date has been tentatively set if the case goes to trial.
The dispute over the terminal and the city’s expanded cruise industry has been going on for several years.
Three years ago, Carnival Cruise Lines permanently based its 2,056-passenger liner Fantasy in Charleston, giving the city a year-round cruise industry. Before that, cruise lines made port calls, but no ships were based in the city.
The city and Ports Authority say the industry is being managed properly and cruises will never be more than a niche business although opponents say added tourists, traffic and smoke are destroying the historic fabric of the city.
Douglas, in his motion, wrote the wharf where the warehouse is located has been permitted for maritime activities for nearly 50 years. Maintenance, under Corps permits, allows the “repair, rehabilitation, or replacement of any previously authorized serviceable structure,” he noted.
But Holman wrote the warehouse “was permitted as a cargo transit shed, was so used for decades and was never used or intended to be a cruise terminal.”
He also noted that a 1979 Corps permit that authorized plans for the cargo shed included a provision that “it shall not be lawful to deviate from such plans either before or after completion of the work.”
The plaintiffs want the judge to void the permit and block the Corps from authorizing any construction until it complies with the more extensive studies required by other federal laws and regulations.