Groups sue to restore public review of cruise terminal's impact
CHARLESTON, S.C. On behalf of the Preservation Society of Charleston and CoastalConservation League, the Southern Environmental Law Center today brought suit in federalcourt to restore required public review of a proposed $35 million cruise terminal slated forconstruction next to Charleston's nationally protected historic landmark district.
Filed in federal court in Washington, today's legal challenge contends that the U.S. Army Corpsof Engineers improperly classified the new 100,000 square-foot terminal as "maintenance" toavoid public scrutiny of the project's impacts on protected historic resources or consideration ofhow to reduce them. Charleston's National Historic Landmark District attracts tourists fromaround the world and is the backbone of the region's hospitality economy.
"We warned the Corps that it had to evaluate a $35 million cruise terminal's impacts on national historic resources and the environment in the light of day, but they insisted on calling itmaintenance to submerge the project from public view," said Blan Holman, an attorney with theSouthern Environmental Law Center, which represents the plaintiff groups. "This action isnecessary to enforce the law and bring the project above-board."On April 20, 2012, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved work by the State PortsAuthority to build foundational pilings for the new terminal, whose escalators and elevatorswould connect to a boarding ramp designed for ships with 4,500 passengers. That is twice asmany passengers as travel on the Carnival Fantasy, whose home-basing at an older, smallerterminal has prompted widespread concern over impacts to Charleston's economically vital andfederally-protected historic downtown."The National Historic Preservation Act mandates that federal agencies consult with preservation officials at the state and local levels before issuing permits," said Evan Thompson, Executive Director of the Preservation Society of Charleston. "The Corps failed to undertake the necessary consultations and we are asking the court to void the federal permit and mandate a fair, open and transparent review as required under the law."Ships expected to home-base at the new terminal are 10 stories tall and stretch for almost a fifth of a mile along the historic waterfront. Home-port calls require the loading and unloading ofthousands of passengers as well as transfers of supplies and garbage, clogging local streets with hundreds of cars and trucks. To provide power for what is in essence a small city, the ships burn dirty diesel fuel and emit trails of visible black soot that doctors say is harmful to human health."A project of this size and scope cannot possibly move forward without a comprehensive publicreview," said Dana Beach, Executive Director of the Coastal Conservation League. "Not only isit required by law, it is also sound policy. Transparency and public engagement lead to smarter,safer, more sustainable structures and reduced negative impacts. The proposed cruise terminal is no exception."In 2011, concern over unlimited cruise industry growth spurred the National Trust for HistoricPreservation to place Charleston on "watch status" as part of its 11 Most Endangered List. TheWorld Monuments Fund placed Charleston in its 2012 Watch List for the same reason. The newterminal site is surrounded by the Charleston Old and Historic District, which was made one ofthe nation's first National Historic Landmarks in 1960.The proposed cruise terminal is intended to allow cruise operations to continue and expand in the historic downtown. It would be several times larger than the existing cruise terminal, which the Department of Homeland Security has said does not meet modern security standards. The Ports Authority intends to gut and reconstruct an empty cargo warehouse to transform it into apassenger terminal with significantly greater capacity to home-base large cruise ships. It needsto install new pilings in navigable waters for the project to proceed.