Supreme Court Leaves Legality of Cruise Ship Harms in Historic Charleston Unanswered
The South Carolina Supreme Court today left open the question of whether the harms caused by Carnival’s cruise operation in historic Charleston are legal, instead ruling that a case challenging their legality must be brought by individual property owners rather than neighborhood associations and other groups. The crucial questions for Charleston – whether Carnival’s operation is a nuisance that could be cleaned up and whether an international cruise corporation is exempt from local and state laws – remain unresolved.
“We’re disappointed that after two years the Court refused to pass on the legality of Carnival’s operation and instead dismissed the case on a legal technicality that the claims should have been brought by individual property owners rather than neighborhood associations and other groups,” said Blan Holman, the Southern Environmental Law Center attorney who represented the plaintiff groups in the lawsuit. “If the upshot of the order is that individual property owners have to file separate lawsuits, then resolving the underlying legal merits will have gotten more cumbersome and resource intensive for everyone.”
Today’s court ruling did not address whether Carnival’s home basing operation complies with local ordinances, or whether it is a nuisance that interferes with the property rights of neighboring home owners, as the plaintiffs alleged. The Court also did not rule that the kinds of injuries caused by Carnival cannot support a suit – just that the level of injury alleged was too widespread and general.
Holman said the plaintiff groups – the Preservation Society of Charleston, Coastal Conservation League, Historic Ansonborough Neighborhood Association, and Charlestowne Neighborhood Association – will review their options in light of the ruling. Their statements to the court still stand, including affidavits of very specific injuries that the court did not address. Individual property owners have expressed interest in refiling the nuisance case.
The case ruled on today by the court is one of three challenges brought by the nonprofit law center on behalf of some of the same clients. In a challenge to the federal permit for a proposed cruise ship terminal in downtown Charleston capable of home basing an even larger ship than based there now. A federal court ruled last September that the groups had standing and that the permit issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was unlawfully issued. The U.S. Department of Justice attorneys subsequently abandoned its appeal of that decision. Now the Army Corps is starting its reconsideration of the terminal proposal anew.
Groups also challenged state permit for the proposed new terminal in South Carolina Administrative Law Court.
The groups contesting these permits have asked for public consideration of options such as shore-side power to reduce diesels soot or pollution from the cruise ships, alternative terminal configurations that minimize disruption to the nearby national Historic District, and standards on the size and frequency of visits by home-based cruise ships to ensure growth in scale with historic Charleston.