Over? Cruise ship fight isn't over until we say it is

The state Supreme Court was pretty dismissive to the "cruise control" crowd last month.

For three years, downtown residents, preservationists and conservationists have tried to put limits on Carnival Cruise Lines' business and stop the State Ports Authority's plan to build a new terminal in their back yard.

They've been passionate, they've been tenacious, they've even been flying ugly flags from their downtown homes in protest.

And after all that, South Carolina's high court dismissed their lawsuit as if it was an afternoon soap opera the justices were embarrassed to admit they'd tuned into.

In fact, they were sort of condescending.

"All members of the public suffer from and are inconvenienced by traffic congestion, pollution, noises and obstructed view, and (p)laintiffs have not alleged they suffer these harms in any personal, individual way," the ruling read.

Ouch. If that wasn't dismissive enough, Mayor Joe Riley called the lawsuit "almost laughable" from the start.

Now, he has a point about some of the sillier concerns ("view shed," indeed), but the reasonable folks involved in this thing aren't laughing.

And they aren't finished either.

Pick your battle

Last week, while everyone else was stripping the grocery stores of bread and milk, a group of concerned residents got together to talk about their next steps in the war on cruise ships.

They are on the ropes, no doubt.

The Supreme Court dismissed the suit on a technicality, claiming the groups that filed didn't have standing. It was something of a dodge. The merits of the case didn't get a ruling - but they did get criticized a bit in the 11-page decision.

At one point, the justices say the lawsuit "fails to make factual allegations sufficient" to prove zoning is being violated. They mention that they'd already dismissed the argument that the Fantasy's smokestack violates the city's sign ordinance.

OK, you've got to admit that one was a stretch.

But the court made it clear that individuals could come back and file the same suit, make the same arguments and claim personal damages.

And you can bet your boarding pass that is exactly what some of these folks will do.

This is not over by a long shot. The groups are still challenging the state permitting process, and are watching to see what the Army Corps of Engineers does next on federal permitting, which could lead them to refile that suit.

All that stuff is pretty technical, and not very sexy. It could be effective, though.

But the real nuisance for the city, the port and Carnival will be the next suit - especially if it focuses on pollution.

Shore side solution?

Some folks have not done the cause any favors by complaining about the class of tourists oozing out of the Fantasy.

That has allowed the other side to dismiss all the critics as a bunch of snobs, and that's not the case.

Truth is, even some of the cruise control folks cringe when they hear that stuff, as they should - because some people are snobs. Well, they'd better get used to tourists. In case they hadn't heard, we are the best tourist town in the Milky Way Galaxy.

Many of these cruise control advocates are reasonable folks just looking for a little concession. The city, the port and cruise line have felt no compulsion to compromise, however, because they know some people will never be satisfied.

Some people just want the ships gone, period. And that's not going to happen.

But there is some hope for concerned citizens. State Reps. Jim Merrill and Leon Stavrinakis are pushing for the state to install shore side power capabilities at SPA docks. That could cut down on the group's most legitimate concern: pollution.

There will always be tourists here, and there will always be traffic. But if downtown residents can prove there is also air pollution, shore side power would be a huge win.

Maybe the two sides could actually find some - gasp - compromise.

And we could finally quit talking about the Un-Loved Boat.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com

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