South Carolina Environmental Law Project

Lawyers for the Wild Side of South Carolina

Charleston cruise ship terminal fight back on appeals court docket
January 16th, 2017

By David Wren

The debate over a new cruise ship terminal in Charleston's Historic District is finally going to be heard by the state Court of Appeals - nearly three years after environmental and preservation groups filed their petition with the court.

Arguments in the case will be heard on Feb. 15 in Columbia, according to the court's website. The hearing has been on and off the docket numerous times since the appeal was filed in 2014, usually because of scheduling conflicts lawyers have with their other cases. Most recently, arguments were postponed when the court realized it made a mistake by scheduling the hearing on Election Day.

"For some reason, I think this one will stick," Blan Holman, a lawyer with the Southern Environmental Law Center, which is representing the groups opposed to the new terminal, said of the Feb. 15 hearing.

The case centers around a permit the state's Department of Health and Environmental Control issued in 2012 allowing the State Ports Authority to place five additional clusters of support pilings beneath an older warehouse at the north end of Union Pier. That's where the maritime agency wants to spend at least $35 million on a new terminal for cruise ships, replacing a nearby 1970s-era building used mostly by Carnival Cruise Lines.

Groups including the S.C. Coastal Conservation League filed a lawsuit opposing DHEC's ruling, but a state Administrative Law Court judge ruled the groups did not have a right to sue. Those groups then filed their appeal.

Holman said the groups do not oppose a new cruise ship terminal, but they fear one so close to the Historic District will create congestion and pollution and threaten the district's unique character. They want the terminal moved farther north.

The SPA says its voluntary limit on the cruise ship business - no vessels with more than 3,500 passengers and no more than 104 ships per year - will address those concerns. The SPA's current cruise ship terminal is just a few hundred feet south of the proposed facility and the maritime agency says a new facility would improve traffic patterns.

The SPA also needs a federal permit to proceed with the project. The Army Corps of Engineers is reviewing an application for that permit but has not set a timetable for its decision. A previous permit application was tossed out by a federal judge in 2013 because the proposal did not consider the terminal’s impact on the city’s historic district.

Office opposition

The SPA also is facing opposition to another permit application, this time for its planned headquarters building at the Wando Welch Terminal in Mount Pleasant.

The South Carolina Environmental Law Project filed a letter with the Army Corps objecting to the SPA's plan to fill 6.7 acres of wetlands to build a 90,000-square-foot office building. The Georgetown-based environmental advocacy group said federal law requires the Army Corps to deny applications to fill wetlands when a feasible alternative exists. The group says the SPA could revise its project design or use other land to avoid having to fill wetlands.

The SPA has agreed to buy credits from a nearby wetlands mitigation bank in exchange for the premit. The Army Corps is still reviewing the application.

The proposed four-story headquarters would be one floor taller than the SPA's current building, with room for 424 parking spaces on the 19.4-acre parcel. The SPA this month sold its longtime Concord Street headquarters for $38 million to Los Angeles hotel developer Lowe Enterprises, which will build a luxury resort on the site. The SPA plans to lease back the property for up to two years at a rate of $69,000 per month while its new office space is being built.

Boeing headwinds

RBC Capital initiated coverage of Boeing Co. last week with a report urging shareholders to sell the aerospace giant's stock. The investment firm cited declining profit margins in Boeing's commercial airplanes division and president-elect Donald Trump's promises to crack down on unfair foreign trade agreements as reasons for concern.

"It is unclear how President Trump will differ from candidate Trump, but following through on the protectionist policies that were central to his campaign could be a headwind to the commercial aerospace sector," RBC analyst Matthew McConnell said in a note to clients, according to a report by CNBC.

RBC issued an "underperform" rating for Boeing's stock.

Boeing, which makes the 787 Dreamliner at its North Charleston campus, is one of the Charleston region's largest employers with a workforce of about 7,600.

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