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Attorneys wrangle over SC cruise terminal permit

Bruce Smith, Associated Press

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) -- Attorneys in the ongoing dispute over a federal permit for a $35 million South Carolina cruise terminal are wrangling over just what that permit allows.

Environmental and neighborhood groups have sued in federal court saying the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers should have, under the law, more extensively studied the project before issuing a permit allowing the South Carolina State Ports Authority to put additional pilings beneath a waterfront wharf.

The pilings are needed to transform an old warehouse into a new cruise terminal for the city's expanded cruise industry. Both sides earlier asked U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel to rule in their favor without a trial. And both sides last week responded in writing to the arguments the other made to the judge.

In arguing more studies are required, plaintiffs' attorney Blan Holman of the Southern Environmental Law Center argued the permits allow a different and more extensive use of the wharf.

"A home base terminal for cruise ships loaded with thousands of passengers and their waste, and serviced by thousands of vehicles every single visit, presents a significantly different environmental profile than a wharf that services cargo ships crewed by dozens and loaded by two trains a day," he wrote.

"The Corps' failure to acknowledge this obvious reality led it to improperly find that the South Carolina State Ports Authority's $35 million cruise ship terminal project would not change the existing shed's use and that the project lacked even the potential to have effects on the human environment or the federally-protected historic structures" in the city's Historic District, he wrote.

But the Corps did not permit a cruise terminal, argued Assistant U.S. Attorney John Douglas.

"Plaintiffs mischaracterize the permitted activity," he wrote. "The Corps' only role in this matter was its verification of SPA's permit application for the installation of 5 piling clusters within the foot print of an existing, permitted, maritime wharf structure."

He wrote the crops did not, and cannot, issued a permit for activities beyond its legal authority.

The plaintiffs want the judge to void the permit and block the Corps from allowing any construction until more extensive studies are done.

The case is one of three legal challenges to the terminal. A November court date has tentatively been set if the case goes to trial.

Three years ago, Carnival Cruise Lines permanently based its 2,056-passenger liner Fantasy in Charleston, giving the city a year-round cruise industry. Before that, cruise lines made port calls, but no ships were based in the city.