Waterfront redevelopment plan threatened; Citizens sue cruise line

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - City officials now fear an economic engine with an impact of $34 million a year, could cruise right out of town. A group of citizens is suing Carnival Cruise Lines for violating state and local laws.

These citizens say every time a cruise ship comes to the Port of Charleston, it is a nuisance, it is dumping soot and sewage into the area and it is ruining their quality of life.

"We've gotten more soot, traffic jams, closed streets and industrial sized cruise operations," said Ansonborough resident Carrie Agnew. "In just three years the cruise industry has more than tripled in Charleston."

The Historic Ansonborough Neighborhood Association, Charlestowne Neighborhood Association, Coastal Conservation League and the Charleston Preservation Society are fighting together to see more regulations placed on carnival cruise lines. Attorney Blan Holman filed a 24-page lawsuit in state court on behalf of the citizens, claiming nine violations by the cruise line.

"There's zoning issues. There is a nuisance claim, and there is an environmental permitting claim. It all boils down to this is an industry that is so far is not acting as if it has comply with local law or state law," said Southern Environmental Law Center Senior Attorney Blan Holman.

Cruise ship supporters, including the City Of Charleston, State Ports Authority, business leaders, International Longshoremen's Association and elected officials, are speaking out, calling the claims frivolous and ridiculous.

"If you want to sue somebody sue the state of South Carolina, sue the city of Charleston, sue the SPA, but to try to sue the client to create a climate of ill-will is sickening. That is a direct affront to every business here in Charleston, South Carolina," Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Berkeley County said.

Charleston Mayor Joe Riley says none of the city's ordinances are being violated, and the claims of the lawsuit are unfounded. He says if this lawsuit is successful or if Carnival pulls its business out of Charleston, the project to redevelop Union Pier and Charleston's waterfront will be over.

"If this lawsuit is successful, it will prevent the redevelopment of Union Pier, it will damage our economy, hurt our maritime industry, it will harm our citizens, and we will do everything we can to make sure this lawsuit fails," Riley said.

For now the SPA board says the multi-million dollar plan to redevelop Union Pier Terminal will continue, but if the lawsuit succeeds, the plans will change.

The citizens say they don't want to get rid of the cruise industry, they don't want monetary compensation, they just want tougher regulations in place.

"These ships operate in other parts of the world at much higher standards of environmental performance and we are simply asking that our city is treated just as well as those cities are," Coastal Conservation League Director Dana Beach said.

The complaint has been filed in Charleston County Court of Common Pleas, the defendant Carnival Cruise Lines, has 30 days to respond.

In this case the City of Charleston, SPA, Chamber of Commerce, and the International Longshoremen's Association have all expressed that they would like to intervene on behalf of Carnival, or even become part of the lawsuit as well.

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