Group Appeals Judge’s Decision on Charleston Cruise Terminal

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

Charleston, SCLast year, our cruise lawyers here at Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A. blogged about the South Carolina case involving the creation of a new port in Charleston. That legal battle is still ongoing, with environmentalists pushing for the idea to be scrapped, and the State pushing for the terminal on the grounds that it will increase revenue to the city.

At first, the idea seemed mostly favorable. South Carolina gave extensive consideration to a $35 million cruise ship terminal and obtained a permit from state environmental regulators at the Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management. Taking activists’ concerns into consideration, the Ports Authority and Charleston officials even agreed to limit the number of cruise ship port calls to 104 per year in order to minimize the environment impact.

But then, in a move no one saw coming, U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel decided to void the federal permit that had been issued for the cruise terminal by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on the grounds that the Corps of Engineers failed to give sufficient consider to the environmental impacts of the terminal. Environmentalists cheered, thinking they were victorious, but then, another unexpected turn of events took away the Environmentalist win.

South Carolina Administrative Law Judge, Ralph Anderson III challenged the environmental claim, explaining the activists groups have failed to support the allegations against construction for the terminal.  In addition, Judge Anderson ordered the environmental groups to pay the ports authority $9,300 in legal fees ruling that the environmental groups had no evidence to support their claims and were merely trying to delay the project and threw out their lawsuit challenging the plans for the terminal.

The environmental groups are now seeking to overturn Judge Anderson’s decision and have filed an appeal.

To give you an idea of how much time has been spent between environmentalists pushing to throw out the terminal plans and the ports authorities and the city pushing to get it underway, the initial idea for the Charleston cruise terminal was unveiled in February, 2010.

Charleston has seen its fair share of lawsuits over cruise terminals and cruise ships. Earlier this year, the South Carolina Supreme Court dismissed a lawsuit alleging Carnival Cruise Line operations disrupt residents.

The issues at the Charleston port resemble those in Venice, where environmentalists are also pushing to prevent large ships from porting there.  The claims in Venice are a bit more plausible, though.  Activists argue the large ships are causing the delicate foundation of the lagoon city to erode with the huge waves the ships make when pulling in.

But aside from Charleston and Venice, cruise ships have faced scrutiny over environmental issues for decades.  Any maritime attorney can tell you that there are, in fact, serious environmental concerns with cruise ships around the world when it comes to pollution.  Cruise ships just like cities generate potentially harmful substances, including wastewater and air pollutants, and despite new technology that reduces these emissions, the environmental footprint caused by Cruise Ships is not as low as it could be.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which regulate cruise ship emissions and pollutants, releases an Environmental Report Card each year, where the agency scores cruise lines on the effects they have on the environment. Using an A through F system, the agency reviews each line, then posts their findings online.  To date, most cruise lines score a C or worse.

So, we can understand the plights of the environmentalists. But then again, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the creation of the new terminal in Charleston is a bad idea.

It certainly can open up a lot of jobs for residents and does have the potential to increase revenue for the city.  If only everyone could work together to find a reasonable middle ground then both sides could put the money and effort that they are currently putting into fighting each other in an all or nothing type war into environmental safeguards being mandated of all ships that call in on the new port that are reasonable but which will escalate in time towards an A grade from the EPA.