Union Pier lawsuit could go to state Supreme Court 

State Ports Authority ratchets up the cruise ship debate a notch

State Ports Authority President Jim Newsome, seen here explaining planned renovations at Union Pier, has taken a lawsuit over cruise ships to the state Supreme Court.

Paul Bowers

State Ports Authority President Jim Newsome, seen here explaining planned renovations at Union Pier, has taken a lawsuit over cruise ships to the state Supreme Court.

The State Ports Authority is asking the state Supreme Court to make a ruling on a lawsuit filed by Charleston neighborhoods and the Coastal Conservation League against Carnival Cruise Lines.

The SPA is using the legal technique, called a petition for original jurisdiction, to force the issue on a court case that it says could threaten jobs and contractual commitments if it is not resolved quickly. The lawsuit, filed June 13, holds that cruise ships docking at the downtown Union Pier terminal are polluting the air and water, violating the area's Light Industrial zoning, blocking the view of the Cooper River from East Bay Street, and damaging the historic character of some downtown neighborhoods.

A central premise of the lawsuit is that ships ought to be treated as buildings once they dock in Charleston, meaning that stringent downtown building codes can be enforced on their owners. Buildings in the area near Union Pier, for example, are not allowed to exceed 60 feet in height or have signs that project from their rooftops.

SPA officials have said that such an interpretation of the law would also prohibit ships carrying cargo such as BMW cars and power generation equipment. While the suit was filed against Carnival, the SPA and the City of Charleston have taken an interest in combating it, throwing their lawyers behind the defense.

Attorneys for the SPA and the City of Charleston have also filed a motion to dismiss the case, which is currently in the Ninth Judicial Circuit of the Court of Common Pleas. Attorney Blan Holman, who filed the original lawsuit, said he would not speculate about the outcome of the petition.

“It is premature to ask the Supreme Court to wade into a complex local zoning and nuisance dispute before the trial court has had the chance to find any facts,” Holman said in an e-mail. “Mayor Riley, the Port, and Carnival are all seeking to avoid discovery of their actions in this case.”

Earlier this month, the SPA filed a petition for original jurisdiction in a lawsuit filed by the City of North Charleston regarding rail lines in the Navy Yard. The Supreme Court denied the request and made no ruling.


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