Almost 2 years after judge calls for do-over, permit for Charleston cruise terminal sought



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CHARLESTON, South Carolina — Almost two years after a federal judge chastised regulators for skimping on a review of a cruise terminal, the South Carolina Ports Authority is again seeking a permit for the contentious $35 million project.

The authority is asking the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for a permit to put additional clusters of pilings beneath an old warehouse on the Charleston waterfront where it wants to build the terminal.

The public has until Aug. 24 to provide the Corps with comments on the application.

Preservation, conservation and community groups opposed to the new terminal have challenged it in three separate legal actions.

One was in federal court, where attorneys argued that while the original Corps permit issued in 2012 considered the impact of the pilings on navigable waters it did not consider the larger issue of the terminal's impact on historic Charleston.

U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel agreed.

"I think you did an end run," he chastised Corps attorneys at a hearing in September of 2013. "You gave this permit a bum's rush."

He sent the permit back for a more extensive review of how the terminal will affect the city and the Corps issued a public notice last month that the authority was renewing its application.

It seeks permission to put five additional clusters of piling beneath the old warehouse where there are now more than 1,000 clusters. Opponents say the new terminal will mean more pollution and affect property values and the quality of life in historic Charleston.

Corps officials said last year the agency will give the permit a more detailed review. The earlier approval came under a so-called nationwide permit that authorizes, with limited delay and paperwork, activities considered to have only minimal environmental impact.

Corps spokesman Sean McBride said that, after public comment is received, the Corps will decide whether a full Environmental Impact Statement, which can take a year, should be compiled. He said the Ports Authority has provided 40,000 pages of documents to the Corps, although much of the material was already available in the earlier permit application.

It's been five years since the terminal was proposed and since Carnival Cruise Lines based its 2,056-passenger liner Fantasy in Charleston, giving the city a year-round cruise industry.

In the other two legal actions:

— A challenge to a state permit allowing the pilings is before the state Court of Appeals. An administrative law judge has upheld the permit and the state Supreme Court last month rejected a motion to immediately hear the case.

— In January of last year, the Supreme Court dismissed a lawsuit brought by terminal opponents. The justices said the opponents lacked standing to sue and that the alleged damages to Charleston were too general to be dealt with by the court system.

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