A court-appointed referee is recommending that the state’s Supreme Court toss out claims that Carnival Cruise Lines’ vessels violate Charleston zoning ordinances and state pollution laws.
Circuit Judge Clifton Newman, who heard arguments months ago in the case brought by preservationists, environmentalists and neighborhood groups, is suggesting, however, that the panel hear the groups present evidence claiming the year-round pleasure vessel operation does violate city nuisance laws.
Newman had been appointed as a special referee by the state Supreme Court to hear the claims by opponents of Carnival cruise operations in Charleston.
In his report to the justices last week, Newman recommends dismissing claims that the cruises violate city zoning ordinances and the state Pollution Control Act. But Newman also said the plaintiffs should be able to present their case that the vessels are a public nuisance based on noise and pollution.
He recommends the claims should be heard in court.
“We are pleased that the Special Master recommended rejecting Carnival’s motion to dismiss our nuisance claims and look forward to pressing our case, which seeks to protect citizen health and the natural and historic resources critical to our region’s economy,” said Blan Holman, an attorney for the groups. “The question is not whether we have cruise operations, but how we balance them with the valuable assets that make this area a great place to visit, live and invest.”
The State Ports Authority and the city of Charleston are helping Carnival defend the suit.
SPA CEO Jim Newsome said he was gratified with Judge Newman’s recommendations to the Supreme Court regarding zoning and environmental claims.
“Our legal counsel are still reviewing the report and will make their comments to the Supreme Court, which ultimately will decide how to rule,” Newsome said in an email.
Both sides have 10 days to appeal Newman’s suggestions to the Supreme Court.
The dispute about cruises in the city have been raging for several years. It heated up in 2010 when Carnival Cruise Lines permanently based its 2,056-passenger liner Fantasy at Union Pier, giving the city a year-round pleasure-ship industry for the first time.
Newman’s report comes on the heels of a group of more than a half dozen preservationists and neighborhood associations — many being the same involved in the Supreme Court case — asking state environmental regulators to rescind a recent permit for a new cruise terminal in downtown Charleston.
The appeal alleges the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control failed to look at all impacts of the new cruise terminal in regards to the historic skyline, water view obstructions, the gridlock on small neighborhood streets, and the pleasure vessels belching fumes into the area.
The State Ports Authority wants to relocate its cruise passenger building to a vacant warehouse at the north end of Union Pier, near Laurens Street. The current structure is farther south, near the end of Market Street.
The DHEC permit allows the SPA to install five pilings under Union Pier to support elevators and escalators at the proposed site.
The appeal asks the department’s board to reverse the permit approval or consider alternative locations and require that cruise ships use shore-based power sources rather than their engines to reduce air pollution.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.