In a letter late last month to the South Carolina State Ports Authority, the state’s Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management asked for information on how the terminal will affect traffic in neighborhoods in the city’s historic district, whether there will be shore power at the terminal and how the project will affect nearby property values.
The request also seeks detailed plans for a covered staging area that will be used for storage and handling ship supplies. Creating the structure will require a new public notice and comment period, the letter said
The authority proposes to create a new terminal out of a warehouse at its Union Terminal on the Cooper River to replace its existing aging terminal. It needs a state permit because work to put elevators in the area means alterations along the shoreline regulated by the state.
Regulators from the office, a division of the state Department of Health and Environmental Control, met last week with officials from State Ports Authority, said office spokesman Dan Burger. He said the needed information is expected next week and there will be a new public notice posted, perhaps by Aug. 3. The public will then have another 30 days to comment on the project.
The letter also asks how emissions from the cruise ships will affect air quality in nearby neighborhoods and whether the total number of ships calling will increase. It also seeks assurances the Ports Authority has worked with the State Historic Preservation Office in determining the terminal’s impact on the historic district.
The state permit was expected to be issued this summer and it’s not clear how long the new review will delay that.
“We are continuing to work with OCRM to obtain all necessary approvals for the new cruise terminal,” said Allison Skipper, a spokeswoman for the Ports Authority.
The terminal is also a focus of suits in both state and federal court. Preservation groups, environmentalists and neighborhood residents sued in state court saying the cruises are a public nuisance causing congestion and pollution. A state judge, acting as a special referee for the South Carolina Supreme Court, heard arguments earlier this month on whether to dismiss that case. He has not issued his findings.
Also this month, environmental and preservation groups sued in federal court in Washington. That suit contends the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers unlawfully issued a permit allowing the State Ports Authority to classify the work as a maintenance project.
Blan Holman, an attorney representing the Southern Environmental Law Center who argued for the plaintiffs in the state lawsuit, said the request for more information shows that DHEC is doing its job.
“Any delay is the fault of the State Ports Authority, which has, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, refused to recognize that cruise operations impact local citizens’ health and the integrity of Charleston’s economically vital historic area,” he said.