CHARLESTON, S.C.— On behalf of the Preservation Society of Charleston and Coastal Conservation League, the Southern Environmental Law Center today brought suit in federal court to restore required public review of a proposed $35 million cruise terminal slated for construction 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 Corps of Engineers improperly classified the new 100,000 square-foot terminal as "maintenance" to avoid public scrutiny of the project's impacts on protected historic resources or consideration of how to reduce them. Charleston's National Historic Landmark District attracts tourists from around 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 it maintenance to submerge the project from public view," said Blan Holman, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, which represents the plaintiff groups. "This action is necessary 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 Ports Authority to build foundational pilings for the new terminal, whose escalators and elevators would connect to a boarding ramp designed for ships with 4,500 passengers. That is twice as many passengers as travel on the Carnival Fantasy, whose home-basing at an older, smaller terminal has prompted widespread concern over impacts to Charleston's economically vital and federally-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 of thousands 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 public review," said Dana Beach, Executive Director of the Coastal Conservation League. "Not only is it 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 Historic Preservation to place Charleston on "watch status" as part of its 11 Most Endangered List. The World Monuments Fund placed Charleston in its 2012 Watch List for the same reason. The new terminal site is surrounded by the Charleston Old and Historic District, which was made one of the 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 a passenger terminal with significantly greater capacity to home-base large cruise ships. It needs to install new pilings in navigable waters for the project to proceed.
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