Groups Act to Restore Public Review Process for Charleston Cruise Terminal
On behalf of the Preservation Society of Charleston and Coastal Conservation League, the Southern Environmental Law Center today brought suit in federal court to restore public review to a proposed $35 million cruise terminal proposed next to Charleston’s nationally protected downtown historic district.
Filed in federal court in Washington, today’s legal challenge contends that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers improperly categorized the new 100,000 square-foot terminal project as “maintenance” to avoid revealing impacts on nationally protected historic resources and the environment. Charleston’s National Historic Landmark District attracts tourists from around the world and is the backbone of the region’s hospitality economy.
“The government submerged this project so that its impacts on human health and nationally treasured historic landmarks could go undetected, but the law requires just the opposite,” said Blan Holman, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, which represents the plaintiff groups. “We are acting to bring this matter above-board so that a balance between cruises and protection can be reached in the light of day.”
On April 20, 2012, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved work by the South Carolina State Ports Authority to build foundational pilings for the new cruise terminal, whose escalators and elevators would connect to a boarding ramp designed for ships with 4,500 passengers. That’s twice as many passengers as travel on the cruise ship currently home-based at a smaller terminal in Charleston.
“The National Historic Preservation Act mandates that federal agencies consult with preservation officials at the state and local levels before issuing permits,” said Evan Thompson, executive director of the Preservation Society of Charleston. “The Corps failed to undertake the necessary consultations and we are asking the court to void the federal permit and mandate a fair, open and transparent review as required under the law.”
Cruise ships expected to call at the new terminal are over ten stories tall and stretch for almost a fifth of a mile along Charleston’s internationally known waterfront. As opposed to port-of-call visits, home-porting operations require the loading and unloading of thousands of passengers as well as transfers of supplies and garbage, clogging local streets with hundreds of cars and trucks. While at berth, the ships burn dirty diesel fuel to power for what is in essence a small city, emitting trails of visible black diesel soot that doctors say is harmful to human health.
“A project of this size and scope cannot possibly move forward without a comprehensive public review,” said Dana Beach, executive director of the Coastal Conservation League. “Not only is it required by law, it is also sound policy. Transparency and public engagement lead to smarter, safer, more sustainable structures and reduced negative impacts. The proposed cruise terminal is no exception.”
In 2011, concern over unlimited cruise industry growth spurred the National Trust for Historic Preservation to place Charleston on “watch status” as part of its 11 Most Endangered List. The World Monuments Fund placed Charleston in its 2012 Watch List for the same reason. The new terminal site is surrounded by the Charleston Old and Historic District, which was designated as one of the nation’s first National Historic Landmarks in 1960.
The proposed cruise terminal would allow cruise operations to continue and expand in the historic downtown and be several times larger than the existing one, which the Department of Homeland Security has said does not meet modern security standards. The Ports Authority intends to reconstruct an empty cargo warehouse and transform it into a passenger terminal with significantly greater capacity to home-base large cruise ships. To proceed, the project needs a federal permit for work in navigable waters. Rather than evaluate the project through the normal individual permitting process, the Corps classified the terminal as “maintenance” immune from public review.
About The Preservation Society of Charleston
Founded in 1920, the Preservation Society of Charleston is the oldest community based historic preservation organization in America. Our mission is to inspire the involvement of all who dwell in the Lowcountry to honor and respect our material and cultural heritage. For more information, please visit www.PreservationSociety.org.
About The Coastal Conservation League
Since 1989, the Coastal Conservation League has been working with communities, businesses, other conservation and citizen groups to protect what we love about the South Carolina coast. From the white sand beaches and pristine marshes to the freshwater swamps and pine savannahs, we focus on the most efficient and effective ways to protect natural habitats, the wildlife that depends on them and the variety of benefits they bring to this state. We also believe that the communities we live in, the air we breathe and the water we depend upon are important and that our quality of life deserves the same high level of attention. To learn more, go to www.scccl.org.