CHARLESTON — Any resolution of the disputes over a $35 million South Carolina cruise terminal in Charleston still appears well in the future.
U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel signed a scheduling order last week setting a November trial date for a lawsuit challenging a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit for the project. If the dispute isn’t settled out of court, Gergel has told the parties to be ready for trial on or after Nov. 4.
That would be still another delay for the terminal announced several years ago. At the time, the South Carolina State Ports Authority announced plans to create the terminal in a renovated warehouse and officials said they hoped it might be in operation by 2012.
“We look forward to an expeditious resolution of the case so that progress on the terminal and the implementation of the Union Pier Concept Plan can continue,” Allison Skipper, a spokeswoman for the authority, said Tuesday.
Once the terminal is built in the warehouse upriver, the authority plans to turn its attention to redeveloping 35 acres of waterfront near its existing aging terminal, reknitting it with the city and removing warehouses and fences that cordon off the area.
But the project has been slowed by both state and federal lawsuits brought by opponents of the city’s expanding cruise industry.
Gergel is hearing a case originally brought in Washington, D.C., last summer by the Preservation Society of Charleston and the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League. The plaintiffs said the case was of national importance and should be heard there.
The suit seeks to invalidate a U.S. Corps of Engineers permit allowing the State Ports Authority to renovate the warehouse. The plaintiffs say there should be more federal review of effects on the city’s historic district. A judge in Washington transferred the case to U.S. District Court in Charleston.
Environmental groups and others also plan to challenge a Department of Environmental Control permit issued last month allowing piers to be driven below the warehouse for an elevator for the new terminal.
An attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center said Tuesday an appeal will be filed Feb. 11 with the state Administrative Law Court. Generally, resolving an issue through the Administrative Law Court can take three or four months. Then, depending on the judge’s decision, either party can then take their case to state court.
South Carolina environmental regulators issued that permit in December, saying that the project complies with state law and doesn’t change what has been happening on the waterfront of a city that has been a port for centuries.
Three years ago, Carnival Cruise Lines permanently based its 2,056-passenger liner Fantasy in Charleston, giving the city a year-round cruise industry. Before that, the city only had seasonal cruises.
Opponents say the added tourists, traffic congestion and smoke from the cruise liners are destroying the historic fabric of the city.