Circuit Judge Clifton Newman indicated Friday that he is in no rush to weigh in on the impact Carnival Cruise Lines ships have on Charleston’s historic district.
“It’s a case where I want to take a sufficient amount of time to perform the task assigned to me by the (S.C.) Supreme Court,” he said after concluding a second day of hearings on whether a cruise ship lawsuit should be dismissed.
The Supreme Court ultimately will decide the case, but it has asked Newman to review it and make a recommendation. He did not provide a time frame for when he would decide, saying only it would be “in due time.”
The Ansonborough and Charlestowne neighborhood associations, the Preservation Society of Charleston and the Coastal Conservation League are suing Carnival.
The city and State Ports Authority have joined the suit on Carnival’s side.
The suit alleges that Carnival’s operations in Charleston amount to a nuisance, violate several city zoning ordinances as well as its noise ordinance and need a state water pollution permit.
The lawsuit does not seek a dollar amount but a ruling to block Carnival’s operations here. The suit was filed after negotiations broke down between cruise opponents, the city and State Ports Authority over how the cruise industry should be regulated.
Charleston has some of the nation’s earliest and strictest tourism regulations, but the city has only a nonbinding pact with the state to limit the size and frequency of cruise-ship visits here.
The approximately six hours worth of arguments Thursday and Friday revolved around a series of legal points, such as whether the groups could legally bring a nuisance complaint, whether a Carnival cruise ship could be considered a structure under the city’s zoning law, and where maritime law stops and state law picks up.
Marvin Infinger, representing the SPA, said the plaintiffs can’t bring the case because any alleged impacts from the cruises, such as congestion and pollution, affect the entire city.
“Unless you can show a unique injury, you don’t have standing,” he said, adding that if an entire community is affected it’s up to public officials to go to court. “If the rule is not enacted in that way there is no way to prevent 10,000 private nuisance suits.”
The city government supports the cruises, he added.
Attorney John Massalon, representing the Preservation Society, argued that the groups can sue.
“There are some issues that are so important that somebody has to come here and air it out,” he said.
The arguments also concerned whether the Fantasy, when docked in Charleston, is a structure governed by zoning ordinances dealing with the height of buildings and making sure vistas of the water are kept clear.
Blan Holman, another attorney for the plaintiffs, argued that the aircraft carrier Yorktown, permanently moored at the Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum in Mount Pleasant, is considered a structure.
“The Carnival Fantasy for two months out of the year is attached to the Union Pier wharf,” he said, adding that the issue turns on how long it needs to be attached to be considered a structure.
“We say it is enough — two months of attachment a year.”
Julius Hines, representing the cruise line, countered that under maritime law, the Fantasy is a vessel until it is permanently moored and no longer can be used to navigate.
Last year the National Trust for Historic Preservation put Charleston on “watch status,” saying it could make the organization’s list of endangered places because of threats from the growing industry.
The Carnival permanently based the 2,056-passenger Fantasy in Charleston two years ago, giving the city a year-round cruise industry.
Newman said he might pose further questions to attorneys before making his recommendation.
Cruise opponents also have filed a federal suit seeking the Army Corps of Engineers to hold a detailed public review before allowing the State Ports Authority to install five new pilings under a Union Pier warehouse that it wants to use for a new cruise terminal.
The opponents also are trying to block a related state permit.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.