Department of Justice Abandons Appeal of Cruise Terminal Decision
The U.S. Department of Justice this week abandoned its appeal of a 2013 court order that set aside a permit for a proposed cruise terminal in Charleston, South Carolina issued without public process or study of environmental impacts or alternatives.
Last September, a United States District Court Judge ruled that a federal permit for the proposed terminal was unlawful because officials at the Corps of Engineers had looked only at pilings underneath the proposed terminal rather than impacts from the terminal itself or operations there.
The Department of Justice appealed that ruling on behalf of the Corps in November of last year, but earlier this week filed papers dismissing the appeal.
Lawyers representing citizens who had appealed what they said was an illegal Corps permit issued without any public input welcomed the dismissal. Blan Holman, of the Southern Environmental Law Center in Charleston, said that government lawyers must have realized that the so-called maintenance permit issued with no public notice for a $35 million cruise terminal was legally indefensible. “It’s a shame that we had to resort to litigation to get public review, but the good news is that the public now will have the chance to weigh in on how and where cruise operations should continue in the Charleston region.”
The matter now goes back to the Corps of Engineers for renewed consideration of the S.C. State Ports Authority's proposal. As currently envisioned, the terminal would be built in downtown Charleston's historic district, where cruise ships over 100 feet tall tower over three story colonial era buildings and church steeples.
The Southern Environmental Law Center represents the Preservation Society of Charleston and the Coastal Conservation League in the federal permit challenge. The citizens groups are advocating for a full public examination of all options for reducing cruise impacts on Charleston's economically vital historic assets and minimizing adverse effects on human health and the environment.
Basing large cruise ships in the historic district brings thousands of of vehicles — cars, buses and semis — into an already congested area. Idling cruise ships burn large amounts of diesel fuel to power what is in essence a floating city, but the ships have no controls to limit pollutants such as particulate soot or nitrous oxide, known health hazards.
The citizen groups have urged the Ports Authority to consider shore power used at other cruise ports to reduce air pollution, and encouraged limits on the size and number of vessels in the historic quarter. Similar concerns motivated leaders in Venice and Key West to impose limits and consider new options for ensuring that cruise operations do not overwhelm local historic port cities.