Judge hears cruise issues

Lawyers for and against Charleston’s growing cruise industry laid out their most detailed arguments to date Thursday before Circuit Judge Clifton Newman, who will resume his work today.

Newman will pose a final batch of questions at 10 a.m., and later is expected to recommend whether the S.C. Supreme Court should dismiss the year-old case, one in which preservation, environmental and neighborhood groups are suing Carnival Cruise Lines.

While the city and the State Ports Authority agreed to allow no more than 104 cruise-ship visits per year, their pact isn’t legally binding, and some residents fear that the number of cruise ships will keep climbing and will hamper their quality of life.

The Ports Authority and the city of Charleston are helping Carnival defend the suit, which involved more than three hours of arguments Thursday. Here is what both sides argued on four of the main issues.

Zoning violation?

Much of Thursday’s hearing centered around whether cruise ships are regulated by the city’s current zoning laws, which address accommodations uses, height, signs and even views from East Bay Street toward the Cooper River.

Frances Cantwell, an attorney for Charleston, said it is clear that City Council never meant for its zoning laws to affect cruise ships, adding, “This cherry picking of various provisions of this ordinance is trying to fit square pegs into round holes, and it doesn’t work.”

Blan Holman, a Southern Environmental Law Center attorney, countered that the city’s zoning does address maritime uses. He noted that Carnival’s Fantasy ship has twice as many rooms as the city’s largest hotel.

“This is exactly what the accommodations ordinance was meant to address,” he said.

State pollution permit?

Holman said the S.C. Pollution Control Act requires Carnival to get a permit if it discharges ballast or anything else into the state’s waters.

Lawyer Julius Hines said Carnival ships would be the only ones held to such a standard, and not only are such discharges covered by federal law, but South Carolina also passed on an opportunity to require stricter standards here.

Public nuisances?

Attorneys for the cruise ships raised the question of whether residents or only city inspectors can bring a public-nuisance complaint, and whether the Ports Authority is immune to such claims.

Attorneys for the neighborhood groups said the nuisance claim merits exploring in court, and seldom are such claims dismissed at such an early stage.

Violate noise law?

Lawyers for the neighborhoods said the ships’ music and broadcast announcements disturb the city’s peace and quiet. Attorneys for the cruise ships, city and port said the neighborhood groups have no standing to pursue a claim against Carnival under the city’s noise ordinance.