Court keeping a close eye on cruise issue
If Brian Hicks and Mayor Joe Riley are your only information sources about the proposed Union Pier cruise terminal project, you may be forgiven for not knowing much about it. Especially about two of the most recent lawsuits.
A recent Hicks column began, "The State Supreme Court was pretty dismissive to the 'cruise control' crowd last month" before saying that the justices "were sort of condescending." And "if that wasn't dismissive enough," Hicks continued, "Mayor Riley called the lawsuit 'almost laughable' from the start."
Fortunately, there are more nuanced commentators.
It's correct that the S.C. Supreme Court dismissed the case concerning Carnival Cruise Line's alleged violations of local and nuisance ordinances on a technicality, saying that the various neighborhood and preservation organizations weren't the proper parties to make these claims. But the court also said that individuals could bring claims in a separate lawsuit.
The court did not say any of the claims lacked merit, and as new claims may be raised against Carnival in the future, the suggestion that the court was "condescending" or that the claims are "laughable" is pure spin.
In a separate statement, Blan Holman, the Southern Environmental Law Center attorney representing the plaintiffs noted that, "Today's court ruling did not address whether Carnival's home basing operation complies with local ordinances, or whether it is a nuisance that interferes with the property rights of neighboring home owners, as the plaintiffs alleged."
These are the allegations that Mr. Hicks and the mayor have elected to ignore.
Then there's that second case...
Last September, as U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel tossed out the federal permit for the planned $35 million cruise terminal at Union Pier, he minced no words declaring that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers did not adequately review the project's impacts on the area. Chastising the Corps' attorneys, Judge Gergel said, "I think you did an end run, you gave this permit the bum's rush."
Refusing to accept the SPA's specious argument that a new waterfront terminal only needed a federal permit for five new pilings, the judge told the defendants' attorneys, "You have an obligation to look at the entire project. You haven't done what the law requires you to do by reducing a 108,000-square-foot project to 41 square feet of pilings. The process got distorted by limiting it to five piers."
The SPA and Army Corps defiantly appealed the ruling before reconsidering that position last month.
Because of this ruling, the Army Corps of Engineers must conduct a thorough review of all the environmental and historic impacts of locating a giant new cruise terminal at Union Pier. Such reviews are congressionally mandated and specific in these situations. This is the same requirement that the SPA tried to evade earlier in its head-on rush to build a terminal before anyone could realize of all of its potential impacts.
Brian Hicks and Mayor Riley are no doubt upset by that failure to comport with the law.
Importantly, Judge Gergel also highlighted the principal problem of locating a cruise terminal near the heart of Charleston's Historic District, arguably South Carolina's centerpiece of tourism, culture, and economic development. The Associated Press reported, "the judge said that there is evidence in the 1,200-page court record that the terminal is being designed for larger ships than now call and could more than triple the number of cruise passengers visiting the city." And "triple" may be an understatement.
Later in his column, Hicks wrote, "This is not over by a long shot."
For that, he should be thankful.
Now there's an opportunity during this federally mandated process for the Army Corps to seek honest local input, do a thorough study of all the impacts, and research alternative locations for a cruise terminal.
Those contrived State Ports Authority "citizen input sessions" won't cut it this time - a federal court will be watching.
Jay Williams Jr., a radio broadcast consultant, has been blogging about the cruise terminal issue since May 2011.