’Cruise ship case’ to go before state’s highest court

Updated: Jun. 6, 2019 at 10:22 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Attorneys and community members entrenched in a legal dispute over expanding the cruise ship industry in downtown Charleston are gearing up for a hearing before the state supreme court next week.

It’s been called the “cruise ship case” as it’s made its way through the court system, and now it’s getting its day before the state’s highest judges.

Environmental groups and community advocates have challenged the SC Ports Authority and Department of Health and Environmental Control over state-issued pollution permits related to the expansion of the cruise ship terminal in downtown Charleston.

“My primary concern is with air quality,” said Tommie Robertson. She lives off Laurens Street, a neighbor to the current cruise ship pier. “That’s impacted very negatively both by the ship itself, their emissions and also by all the cars that come in. Then, there’s traffic congestion, and then there’s noise pollution.”

However, the argument has moved past environmental concerns. The focus of June 11th’s hearing will be to ask the SC Supreme Court to review and reverse a prior decision by a lower court. The plaintiffs claim the Court of Appeals shut the door on Charlestonians who aimed to appeal state-issued pollution permits for a proposed terminal.

“Do communities, community groups have the ability and the right to protect themselves from pollution, and that’s really what’s at stake,” said Amy Armstrong, the Executive Director and General Counsel for the SC Environmental Law Project. “I think that would, should be concerning to anyone. All citizens of the state of South Carolina because we all want to protect our health, our quality of life, the quality of our environment.”

The state ports authority wants to build a newer and bigger terminal to host larger ships and more of them.

The debate isn’t against cruise ships though. Instead, it’s a fight to make sure the future of the industry in the Charleston Harbor is environmentally responsible.

“We’re only going to see more and more of this,” said Winslow Hastie with the Historic Charleston Foundation. “These issues aren’t going to go away. Again, I think the residents, the people who live closest to these impacts are the ones most directly affected and so they need to have a voice.”

The case goes before the state’s highest court on June 11th at 10 a.m. in Columbia.

A free round-trip bus ride is being offered to people wanting to join the efforts.

The bus will depart from downtown Charleston around 7:30 a.m. and arrive in Columbia at 10 a.m. Oral arguments are expected to last one to two hours.

You can reserve your seat and get more details at

DHEC said the state agency doesn’t comment on pending litigation, and the state ports authority did not respond for a statement, but a spokesperson said the US Army Corps of Engineers is expected to decide on the federal permit by the end of the year.

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