CHARLESTON — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has asked that a federal lawsuit over South Carolina’s planned $35 million cruise terminal be heard in Charleston, not Washington, D.C.
Environmental and preservation groups sued last month to invalidate a federal permit for the project in which the South Carolina State Ports Authority plans to renovate an old warehouse as a new passenger terminal. The port agency wants to put new pilings beneath the structure to support terminal elevators.
The Preservation Society of Charleston and the Coastal Conservation League sued, saying there should be more federal review of how Charleston is being affected by the city’s expanded cruise industry. The lawsuit contends the Corps of Engineers unlawfully issued a permit allowing the Ports Authority to classify the project as maintenance work instead of a new project.
The corps has until next month to formally respond to the suit, which was filed in Washington in part because that is where the corps is headquartered.
But Justice Department attorneys filed a motion Wednesday asking U.S. District Judge James Boasberg to move the case to South Carolina.
They argued it should have been brought in Charleston, where both plaintiffs are based, and that “the complaint does not assert that the claims arose in the District of Columbia”
It says the State Ports Authority is located in Charleston, the pilings will be installed in Charleston and corps officials who reviewed the project also are in Charleston. They argue that the Coastal Conservation League is no stranger to bringing suits in the state, having filed seven during the past 12 years.
“The interests of justice will best be served by transferring this action,” the motion argues.
Meanwhile, state regulators are taking additional public comment through Sept. 2 on a state permit needed for the project.
Originally, the authority applied to the state Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management for a permit for the pilings. But revisions to the project, which reopened the public comment period, include changes to the building and planned covered areas to handle passengers and baggage outside.
There is expected to be another public hearing on the issue. More than 200 people attended a contentious hearing earlier this year on the original permit.
Environmental and preservation groups as well as neighborhood residents have also sued in state court saying the cruise ships are a public nuisance and the city violated its own ordinances in allowing a year-round industry. A judge appointed by the state Supreme Court heard arguments last month but no ruling has been made in the case.