CHARLESTON, South Carolina — Charleston neighborhood, conservation and preservation groups may challenge a state permit for a $35 million South Carolina passenger cruise terminal, a state administrative law judge has ruled.
In a 16-page ruling on Monday, Chief Administrative Law Judge Ralph K. Anderson III rejected a South Carolina Ports Authority motion to dismiss a challenge to a state Department of Health and Environmental Control permit.
The DHEC permit certified that putting added pilings beneath an old riverfront warehouse so it can be renovated as a new terminal complies with state coastal regulations.
The permit challenge is one of three ongoing legal fights involving the city's cruise industry.
The Ports Authority in July asked Anderson to dismiss the challenge to the state permit, saying the pilings have not yet been installed and so there has been no injury to the plaintiffs and they have no standing to appeal. Attorneys also argued the appeal should be dismissed because whether cruises operate out of Charleston is a political question, not one for the administrative law court.
Anderson noted the plaintiffs, who include six local groups, allege the permit will allow more cruise ships with the pollution, traffic and health impacts that accompany them.
"At this stage of the proceedings, the court finds that petitioners have sufficiently alleged that the organizations have standing," he concluded, but added he would consider the larger issue of whether cruises should be allowed at all.
"The case before this court involves the discrete matter of whether the permit issued to the Ports Authority complies with state law," he wrote.
A hearing is set for next month.
The question of whether the cruise industry is a public nuisance is now before the state Supreme Court. The justices heard arguments last month and have not indicated when they might rule.
The third legal challenge is to federal permit for the terminal pilings. A federal judge ruled in September that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers did not study the issue adequately and tossed out the permit. The Ports Authority and the Corps have appealed that decision to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia
Terminal opponents say they want limits on cruises so they don't overwhelm the city. Supporters say the city will only be a niche cruise market and the industry is already being appropriately regulated.