CHARLESTON, S.C. — State regulators on Friday asked for more public comment on South Carolina’s proposed $35 million passenger cruise ship terminal, which could delay a decision on a needed permit until late fall.
The state Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management issued a public notice seeking comment on revisions to the South Carolina State Ports Authority plan to create the new terminal in an old warehouse on the Charleston’s Cooper River waterfront.
Originally, the authority applied for a permit to drive pilings into the riverfront beneath the terminal to support elevators. The revisions, which reopened the public comment period, include some changes to the building and the proposed covered areas to handle passengers and baggage outside.
Comments on the revised application will be taken through Sept. 2. After that, there will likely be another public hearing, said Dan Burger, the spokesman for Ocean and Coastal Resource Management, which is a division of the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.
More than 200 people attended a contentious hearing earlier this year on the original permit. Burger says a decision is expected within 90 days of the end of the comment period, which could mean as late as Dec. 1.
IN REVIEWING THE permit, the agency said last week it sought additional information about the impact of cruise ships, their effect on property values in Charleston’s historic district.
The cruise controversy has spawned lawsuits in both state and federal court.
Environmental and preservation groups and neighborhood residents have sued in state court saying the ships are a public nuisance and alleging the city violated its own ordinances in allowing a year-round industry. A judge appointed by the state Supreme Court heard arguments last month but, as of Friday, had not released his findings.
Preservationists have also sued in federal court in Washington, D.C. It argues the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers unlawfully issued a permit allowing the State Ports Authority to classify the terminal work as a maintenance project. The lawsuit contends it is a new project.
There have been seasonal cruises from Charleston in years past, but things changed in 2010 when Carnival permanently based its 2,056-passenger Fantasy liner in the city, creating a year-round industry.
Last year, the city was warned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation that the growing industry threatens the city’s historic character. While not listing Charleston as one of the nation’s most endangered places, it put the city on what it called watch status.
Tourism means $15 billion to the South Carolina economy, and a 2010 study conducted for the Ports Authority found cruises account for $37 million of that.