By Barbara Liston
(Reuters) - Carnival Cruise Lines on Wednesday won a round in a three-pronged legal battle with residents and environmental groups in Charleston, South Carolina, over the impact of port operations on the historic downtown.
The state Supreme Court tossed out a lawsuit in which residents claimed a 2,000-passenger Carnival ship that uses Charleston as its home port created a nuisance. South Carolina Ports Authority and the city of Charleston intervened in the lawsuit on Carnival's behalf.
The plaintiffs, which included the Preservation Society of Charleston and Coastal Conservation League, claimed the ship Fantasy caused regular traffic congestion while loading and unloading passengers in the densely populated downtown area, created air pollution and blocked views. The ship began using Charleston as a home port three years ago.
The high court ruled that the plaintiffs lacked standing because the alleged nuisances were widespread and general rather than particular problems affecting specific individuals.
In a statement after the ruling, Ports Authority chairman Bill Stern said, "We have contended from day one that this was an improper lawsuit and an assault on jobs and economic growth all across our state."
Blan Holman, a lawyer for the nonprofit Southern Environmental Law Center who represented the plaintiffs, said the ruling left unanswered whether the cruise operation creates an illegal nuisance.
Holman said some property owners are considering refiling the lawsuit as individuals.
The ports authority also is facing legal challenges from residents and environmental groups as it seeks state and federal permits to build a bigger $35 million cruise terminal nearby.
In September, a federal judge ruled that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers did not adequately address the impact of the terminal on the downtown area before issuing a permit. The ports authority and army corps on January 6 dropped their appeal of the ruling, Holman said.
A lawsuit by residents and environmentalists over a state permit for the new terminal remains pending in state court, he said.
(Editing by David Adams and Amanda Kwan.)