COLUMBIA — Allowing a lawsuit challenging Charleston’s cruise ship visits to continue could damage global commerce if taken to the extreme, a lawyer argued Tuesday in front of the S.C. Supreme Court.
Attorney Marvin Infinger said the legal challenge filed by preservationists and neighborhood groups could essentially be applied to all commercial ships that call on the city.
And if the groups opposed to the cruise ship visits succeed, commercial vessels that travel the world could face the same legal opposition, he said.
“The suit, if allowed to stand, would do violence to the ocean-going commerce of this nation,” said Infinger, who represents the S.C. Ports Authority in the dispute.
The comments came as both sides squared off for about an hour in front of the justices.
Additionally, a city attorney argued that the plaintiffs who are looking to challenge the cruise industry visits are not uniquely affected by the traffic and congestion the ships have brought.
“The harm is no different in kind than what we all suffer,” said Charleston attorney Frances Cantwell, who said the inconveniences cited are part of life in a vibrant, expanding city.
Attorney J. Blanding Holman IV, who represents the plaintiffs through the Southern Environmental Law Center, said the suit should go forward because of the systematic harm that the ships are bringing to a confined and historic part of Charleston.
That includes residents’ exposure to soot, traffic, noise and the trucks that resupply the ships.
“We’re not just talking about the ocean-going vessel,” he said. “We’re talking about what is happening in the neighborhoods.”
The high court is considering whether the legal challenge filed by the Preservation Society of Charleston and the Coastal Conservation League can continue. The groups partnered in 2011 to try to block Carnival Cruise Lines operations along the harbor waterfront. The complaint now centers on the accusation that the ships violate city zoning and create a nuisance.
No timetable was released on when a decision would be filed. It could be months away.
Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551.