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Judge voids permit for proposed South Carolina cruise terminal

CHARLESTON, South Carolina (Reuters) - A judge on Thursday voided a federal permit issued for a proposed $35 million cruise ship terminal in Charleston, South Carolina, ruling the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers failed to fully examine the potential impact of the project.

The decision by U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel in Charleston handed a victory to environmental and preservation groups that worry an increase in cruise ship traffic could threaten Charleston's nationally recognized historic district.

A coalition of groups led by the Southern Environmental Law Center filed a lawsuit last year, arguing the ships would bring water pollution, noise and traffic.

The suit also alleged the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which issued a permit for the new terminal, improperly listed the project as "maintenance" and did not subject the permit process to public scrutiny.

"The case isn't about being pro-cruise, or anti-cruise: it's about balance, and finding the ways that work," said Blan Holman, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center.

"This ruling allows for a renewed look at how a cruise terminal could minimize harmful pollution and moderate impacts on Charleston's economically vital historic district."

Charleston's historic district was designated as a National Historic Landmark District in 1960, one of the first in the United States.

Construction has yet to begin on the project, which would convert an old warehouse into a new 100,000-square-foot terminal for cruise ships.

The South Carolina Ports Authority said in a statement it would consult with the Corps of Engineers to determine what steps to take next.

The lawsuit is one of several that have been filed by neighborhood, environmental and preservation groups to halt, or relocate, the building of the new terminal.

State officials say they want to lure more cruise business to Charleston, which has served as a home port for Carnival Cruise Lines' Fantasy ship since 2010.

Port authority officials have said they would limit the number of cruise ship visits each year to just over 100, with no two ships allowed in the port at the same time. But preservation groups argue those limits are only voluntary and the number could increase.

The Port of Charleston is the fourth-busiest container port in the United States.

(Reporting by Harriet McLeod; Editing by Kevin Gray and Ken Wills)

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