A fierce battle over cruise ships is raging in Charleston, S.C., where a coalition of environmental groups is suing to block the construction of a new $35 million terminal – arguing that the proposed facility wasn’t properly permitted and would threaten the city’s historic district.

Wait … “threaten?” With what, exactly? Tourists eager to spend money?

Environmentalists argue that the facility – being constructed by the S.C. State Ports Authority (SCSPA) – would pollute Charleston Harbor and threaten the value of historic properties. They also claim that the SCSPA misled the public by referring to the project as “maintenance” work on an aging cargo warehouse – not a new cruise ship terminal. Port officials counter that they held numerous public hearings regarding the project, and that its economic benefits far outweigh any costs.

Since 2010 Charleston has been the home port to Carnival Fantasy – the oldest ship in the Carnival fleet. The ten-deck, 855-foot long ship sails from the Holy City to various tropical destinations including Nassau, Freeport, Grand Turk and Half Moon Cay. It carries up to 2,100 passengers and has a crew of 920.

What do we think of this situation?

Well, we’re not keen on the fact that the entire $35 million price tag for this project is being paid for with public funds (the result of a December 2010 bond issue). Government shouldn’t be involved in any facet of the cruise ship business, and our state should be seeking to leverage private capital for projects like this … just as it should be leveraging private capital to pay for new container traffic infrastructure.

We also think it was foolish to label the project as something it wasn’t on the permitting applications … that’s just asking for controversy.

Other than that, we don’t have much of a problem here … and certainly the argument that a bunch of blue bloods living in Charleston are going to see reduced property values as as result of this terminal strikes us as thoroughly non-compelling.

South Carolina (and particularly the Port of Charleston) needs to be leveraging every available competitive advantage. We’re just pushing for this to be done using private dollars …