Statement from the Southern Environmental Law Center Regarding SC Supreme Court Ruling on Charleston
The South Carolina Supreme Court has issued an order allowing a case involving Carnival Cruise Lines’ operations in historic Charleston to proceed forward for further briefing. While the Court dismissed three of the claims against Carnival – regarding noise and sign ordinances, and an environmental permitting claim – it did not adopt a Special Referee’s earlier recommendation to dismiss the remaining seven ordinance and nuisance claims. Blan Holman, managing attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center’s Charleston office, issued the following statement:
“We are pleased that our seven strongest claims remain and look forward to showing that Carnival cannot ignore the rules every other business plays by in making Charleston a great city.
We look forward to continuing to act on behalf of citizens to ensure that Carnival follows local laws that protect the city’s healthy environment, treasured historic assets, and booming tourism industry – an industry that depends on balancing Charleston’s unique historic charm with sensible cruise ship operations.”
As cruise ship traffic has exploded in the heart of Charleston’s historic district in recent years – growing from 33 dockings in 2009 to 89 in 2011, due mostly to the Carnival Fantasy –citizens have demanded that cruise ship operations adhere to existing standards to manage traffic, pollution, and large crowds. Charleston has thrived through the years by applying these standards to homeowners and all manner of businesses, from hoteliers to rickshaws.
After Charleston City officials claimed to have no power over cruise operations, SELC filed suit in state courts on behalf of neighborhoods and conservation groups to establish that Carnival is indeed subject to local laws that protect the city’s healthy environment and job-creating historic assets. The Supreme Court has asked for additional briefing on whether Carnival is subject to Charleston’s local authority. Holman said that is a core issue in the case, adding:
“We are hopeful that the city of Charleston will agree that it has the power – and responsibility – to oversee a cruise operations based in Charleston, as the Carnival Fantasy is. The City of Charleston has exerted its authority to safeguard the harbor and the surrounding community for hundreds of years. It would be a shame if officials now abandon Charleston’s waterfront all for the Carnival Fantasy.”
The plaintiffs in the Supreme Court case are the Historic Ansonborough Neighborhood Association, the Charlestowne Neighborhood Association, the Coastal Conservation League, and the Preservation Society of Charleston.
In other proceedings, briefing continues in federal court concerning a permit granted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for a new cruise terminal in Charleston. By characterizing the $35 million new terminal as a “maintenance” project, the Corps authorized the S.C. State Ports Authority’s terminal with no public notice or consideration of ways to reduce impacts on federally-protected historic sites and the environment. SELC represents concerned citizen groups seeking open permit review so that options for harmonizing cruise operations with existing businesses and neighborhoods can be fully evaluated.