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Corps, ports pull appeal over Charleston cruises

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina Ports Authority and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Monday dropped their challenges to a federal judge's decision overturning a permit for a planned $35 million cruise terminal in Charleston.

The groups were challenging a ruling by U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel, who said the Corps did not adequately review the terminal's effects on the city's Historic District, sending it back for further governmental review.

"I think you did an end run," Gergel chastised attorneys during a hearing last fall. "You gave this permit a bum's rush."

Gergel was reviewing a lawsuit by environmental and neighborhood groups, who filed a lawsuit saying the Corps should have allowed the authority to put additional pilings under an existing waterfront warehouse.

The pilings are needed to transform the warehouse into a new cruise terminal for the city's expanded cruise industry. The plaintiffs say that allowing the warehouse to be used for a terminal is a different and more extensive use than permitted in the past.

Attorneys for the Corps said the permit only allows installing five clusters of pilings beneath a structure already permitted for maritime uses.

A federal mediator had planned to meet with attorneys Tuesday over the disputed appeal. On Tuesday, Blan Holman, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, said the decision to withdraw was a victory for local citizens and said the matter goes back to the Corps for renewed consideration.

"It's too bad we had to resort to litigation to get here, but the good news is that the public now will have the chance to weigh in on how and where cruise operations should continue in the Charleston region," Holman said in a statement. "It's never too late to get something this important right."

The federal case is one of three disputes over the proposed terminal. Later this month, Chief Administrative Law Judge Ralph K. Anderson III takes up the matter of a challenge to pilings permit approved by the Department of Health and Environmental Control in December 2012. Officials noted that the warehouse area has been an industrial and commercial area for centuries and putting in the five pilings for the terminal alone does not allow bigger ships or more ships.

The neighborhood, conservation and preservation groups appealed, and it will likely be months until the issue is resolved because any decision by an administrative law judge can then be appealed to state circuit court.

There's been no ruling on the third outstanding legal action. In mid-November, the state Supreme Court heard arguments alleging that the cruises are a public nuisance causing noise, pollution and traffic congestion in the city's Historic District.

Carnival Cruise Lines based its 2,000-passenger liner Fantasy in Charleston more than three years ago, giving the city a year-round industry. Before that, ships made port calls, but none were based in Charleston.


Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP

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