Preservation group: S.C. should allow suit against Carnival

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One of the country's most prominent preservation groups has joined a legal battle in South Carolina's state Supreme Court over Carnival Cruise Lines' operations in the historical port of Charleston.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation filed an amicus brief with the court, saying the court should allow local preservation groups to continue a lawsuit that claims Carnival's homeporting of the Carnival Fantasy in Charleston constitutes a nuisance and fails to comply with local zoning laws. The court is weighing a motion to dismiss the case.

The trust is a nonprofit organization created by federal legislation in 1949. It operates under the direction of a board of trustees that includes the U.S. attorney general and the secretary of the interior.

Four citizen groups last June sued the line, saying its 2,000-passenger ship, which operates year-round cruises from Charleston's Union Pier Terminal, located in the city's Old and Historic District, should be made to conform to local regulations.

The plaintiffs are the Preservation Society of Charleston, the Historic Ansonborough Neighborhood Association, the Charlestowne Neighborhood Association and the Coastal Conservation League.

The suit, filed by the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of the groups, makes several claims tied to local ordinances.

It says the ship violates height and environmental regulations, noise limits and accommodations rules. Additionally, the suit charges that the Fantasy creates a public nuisance on turnaround days, when passengers leaving and arriving at the pier clog traffic and cause street closures.

The state high court early this year claimed jurisdiction over the case at the request of the city of Charleston and the South Carolina State Ports Authority, both of which support the continued operation of the Carnival ship and have attached themselves as defendants in the lawsuit.

In its brief, the National Trust noted that Charleston's "Historic District," which includes the harbor, has been listed since 1966 in the National Register of Historic Places.

"Pollution, noise, soot, protected view and skyline encroachments, traffic gridlock, road closures and large crowds in their neighborhoods are examples of the injuries" suffered by the plaintiffs, stated the trust.

In addition to federal rules that apply to recognized areas, the city has its own preservation laws that affect property owners in the district.

The members of each of the four groups that filed suit against Carnival own property in the district and therefore "have standing to sue because Carnival's activities adversely affect their property interests," the trust said.

The brief said that "Carnival has refused to be regulated at all or shoulder any part of the burden it creates" in the harbor area.

The court should allow the lawsuit to go forward, said the brief. The court has not indicated when it will rule on the motions to dismiss.

Carnival began operating the Fantasy on Bahamas and Eastern Caribbean cruises from Charleston in 2010.

The trust last year indicated its concern for Charleston by giving the city a "Watch Status" designation, meaning that a specific threat to a historical site appears to be growing but can be avoided.

It suggested three actions that were designed to reach "a balanced solution": The trust said it would help sponsor a tourism impact study for Charleston, fund an "enforcement authority legal review" and launch a community forum on cruise tourism. The trust said the forum would "tap into its social networking and online presence to encourage continued discussion of the cruise tourism issue."

For cruise news and updates, follow Donna Tunney on Twitter @dttravelweekly.

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