CHARLESTON, S.C. (CN) – Well-heeled residents and environmental groups in this popular tourist destination sued Carnival Cruise Lines, claiming its use of the city as homeport for the 855-foot-long “Carnival Fantasy” is an “injurious nuisance,” causing health and environmental problems and aesthetic distress.
The lawsuit, the latest volley in a long-running dispute, was filed by the Coastal Conservation League and three neighborhood groups, including those of the city’s very old Ansonborough and Charlestown neighborhoods. They ask the County Court of Common Pleas to declare Carnival’s use of the Union Pier Terminal illegal.
Charleston’s longtime Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. has thrown the weight of his office behind Carnival, declaring before a gathering of cruise industry supporters: “We are going to beat them, and we’re going to stop this kind of foolishness in our city.”
The State Ports Authority also plans to intervene in the lawsuit.
Although cruise ships have long called on the Port of Charleston, it wasn’t until 2008 that any cruise ship line “homeported” in the city, dramatically increasing the number of visits they made to Charleston.
In 2009, the complaint states, cruise ships docked at Charleston’s Union Pier 33 times. This year, the number is expected to be nearly three times as high, with 68 of those calls being made by the Fantasy.
The plaintiffs claim, among other things, that Carnival “is discharging pollutants
from its vessel the Carnival Fantasy into Charleston Harbor without permits required by South Carolina pollution control law;” that the illegal dumping includes waste and bilge water too close to shore; that the pollution is exacerbated by toxic paint on the hull of the Fantasy; and that its diesel fuel pollutes the air.
The lawsuit also claims the Fantasy may violate Charleston’s intricate zoning laws, including one that limits the size and locations for new hotels.
They say Fantasy, which has a capacity of more than 2,900, is twice as large as the largest hotel in Charleston and would not be allowed in the city if it were land-based.
They add: “The Fantasy visually disrupts the historic skyline with large, unhistorical, and impossible-to-ignore forms that detract from and diminish historic structures such as Charleston’s iconic church spires in the historic district.
“The sheer height, scale, and mass of the cruise ships, which act as hotels, dwarf everything around them and block the historic skyline and protected streets views of the Cooper River and Charleston Harbor. When docked, defendant’s ships are the broadest and tallest structures in Charleston, yet are completely unhistorical in design.
“The influx of thousands of passengers, crew and support personnel (and associated traffic), along with the transportation of supplies and garbage are beyond the scale of pre-existing tourist operations … and cause major traffic congestion downtown and the closure of public roads.”
The neighborhood associations say, “Homeporting cruise operations at an industrial scale could jeopardize the integrity, setting and context that led to National Register designation and place maintenance of National Register status at risk.”
They seek declaratory relief on claims of unlawful use of the pier within a light industrial zone district, violation of the state Pollution Control Act, zoning, sign and noise violations, public nuisance.
The plaintiffs are represented by J. Blanding Holman IV with the Southern Environmental Law Center.