Judge transfers cruise lawsuit to Charleston

The State Ports Authority wants to shift its cruise operations farther north, to the building next to the smaller ship.

A federal judge has transferred a court challenge to Charleston’s planned $35 million cruise terminal to Charleston from Washington, D.C., ruling that the controversy is largely a local issue.

Local environmental and preservation group sued in July in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia, saying the case is of national importance and should be heard there.

The suit seeks to invalidate a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit allowing the State Ports Authority to renovate a riverfront warehouse for the terminal. The plaintiffs said there should be more federal review of effects on the city’s historic district.

U.S. District Judge James Boasberg, in a Sept. 27 order transferring the case, wrote that the claim “is overwhelmingly local in nature and has no meaningful nexus in the District of Columbia.”

The project, he wrote, “is located in Charleston, its many effects — whatever they might be — will be felt there and the relevant decision-makers in the Corps are there as well, thus giving the District of South Carolina meaningful ties to the controversy.”

The Preservation Society of Charleston and the Coastal Conservation League have said that under the National Historic Preservation Act there should have been more consultation of how the historic district is affected.

Their attorneys argued that bypassing the consultation required by the law and “approving a new cruise ship terminal that will impact nationally significant, federally protected properties in one of the country’s most historically intact towns has substantial nationwide ramifications.”

Boasberg wrote that while the Army Corps is headquartered in Washington and the case involves federal law, that shouldn’t the deciding factor in where it is heard.

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“If it were, any challenge involving a federal law implemented by a federal agency could not be transferred elsewhere,” he wrote. He added that federal courts have ruled that just because a case involves a federal law and a federal agency does not provide sufficient basis to keep it in Washington.

Environmental and preservation groups as well as neighborhood residents also have sued in state court, alleging that the city’s expanded cruise industry is a public nuisance.

Carnival Cruise Lines permanently based the 2,056-passenger Fantasy in Charleston two years ago, giving the city a year-round industry.

The SPA plans to revamp an existing structure to replace the existing, aging terminal farther south, near the end of Market Street.

The Post and Courier contributed to this report.