South Carolina Environmental Law Project

Lawyers for the Wild Side of South Carolina

New Cruise Ship Terminal

The S.C. State Ports Authority is seeking to construct a new, expanded cruise ship terminal at Union Pier in the heart of the historic district of downtown Charleston. On behalf of a coalition of community groups, SCELP filed a challenge to the state permit that authorizes construction of the new terminal in the Administrative Law Court and the case was assigned to Chief Administrative Law Judge Tripp Anderson.

The Preservation Society of Charleston, Historic Charleston Foundation, Historic Ansonborough Neighborhood Association, South Carolina Coastal Conservation League, Charlestowne Neighborhood Association, Charleston Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation and Charleston Communities for Cruise Control asked for SCELP’s assistance in appealing a permit issued by DHEC to the S.C. State Ports Authority (“SPA”) to install pilings in critical area; make structural changes to a building constructed over the critical area; and construct two covered staging areas designed to handle passengers, luggage, and loading and unloading of ship supplies at the Union Pier Terminal. The permit allows SPA to increase both the size and the quantity of cruise ships that dock at the Union Pier Terminal in Charleston.

The project would lead to a host of environmental and social impacts created by the increased presence of docked cruise ships, including: increased airshed emissions, traffic volumes, and traffic noise; health implications; and depressed property values. Particularly troubling is the spike in sulfur dioxide (“SO2") emissions that come from a docked cruise ship. Cruise liners utilize a fuel high in sulfur that generates SO2 when burned, and these emissions become very problematic when the ship is in port and the SO2 emissions are not being diffused. SO2 is a major component of acid rain and also is known to create a variety of health issues, particularly in those with breathing problems.

We thoroughly briefed and responded to motions filed by SPA throughout the late-summer and fall of 2013 and succeeded in defeating SPA's motion to dismiss. By Order dated December 2, 2013, Judge Anderson ruled in our favor that the community groups had standing to appeal DHEC's permit authorizing the new terminal at Union Pier. However, SPA then filed a motion for summary judgment, which was also based on a lack of standing at the end of December.

Extensive briefing continued into 2014 with a variety of motions filed by both parties, including a motion to allow us to take the depositions of some of SPA's key witnesses and employees and a motion to remand the matter for review of the state approvals SPA would need to obtain in light of the ruling by U.S. District Judge Gergel in September 2013 invalidating the federal authorization for the project, which were both denied by Judge Anderson.

On April 11, 2014, Judge Anderson granted SPA's motion for summary judgment finding that the community groups lacked standing to proceed in the contested case hearing and disposing of all remaining pending motions. On April 21, 2014, we filed an appeal on behalf of the community groups with the SC Court of Appeals. We are now awaiting the court to schedule arguments or issue a ruling on SPA's motion to dismiss particular components of our appeal.

Case Update:

The SC State Ports Authority has reapplied for the federal permit needed to construct a new, expanded cruise ship terminal in downtown Charleston, which had been thrown out by US District Judge Gergel last September for failing to fully consider impacts on the historic city and its residents. The Corps of Engineers is requiring that the Ports Authority obtain an individual permit, rather than a nationwide permit as before, which means that a more extensive review of the project and its impacts will need to take place and additional state approvals acquired before it may move forward. SCELP raised this issue in its state court appeal, but the Administrative Law Judge disagreed with our argument that overturning the federal permit necessitated additional state approvals.

We filed an appeal in the Court of Appeals in April of 2014 and briefing will be completed in February of 2015.

New Cruise Ship Terminal