By Harriet McLeod
CHARLESTON, South Carolina (Reuters) - Preservation groups filed a lawsuit on Monday in Charleston, South Carolina against Carnival Cruise Lines, claiming the company's ships pollute the city and threaten its historic charm.
The suit alleges that cruise ships violate local zoning ordinances and state environmental permitting laws, and result in noise, air pollution, traffic congestion and blocked views.
"People simply want to see Carnival play by the rules just like everyone else so that an uncontrolled cruise industry doesn't swamp Charleston's health and heritage," said Blan Holman, an attorney with the Charlottesville, Virginia-based Southern Environmental Law Center, which filed the suit.
Preservation and neighborhood groups seek to stop the South Carolina State Ports Authority's $25 million redevelopment of its Union Pier into a cruise ship terminal for Carnival, which made Charleston a home port in May 2010.
The port expects to open the new terminal by the end of 2012, said port spokesman Byron Miller.
Eighty-nine cruise ships will call on the city this year, up from 67 last year, Miller said. The port has voluntarily agreed to limit the number of cruise ships calling at the new terminal to 104 a year.
Carnival Cruise Lines had no comment about the suit, a spokesman said in an email.
The company doesn't lack allies.
City and port leaders praised Carnival on Monday, arguing that Charleston has been a maritime city since 1680.
State Ports Authority Chairman Bill Stern called the lawsuit "irresponsible" and "an assault on jobs and economic growth all across our state."
The cruise industry brings $37 million annually into a three-county coastal region and supports more than 400 jobs, port officials said.
The city, State Ports Authority, Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce and the International Longshoremen's Union local said they would intervene in the suit on Carnival's behalf.
"We're going to stop this kind of foolishness in our city," said Mayor Joe Riley. "Charleston has been an international tourism leader. We wrote the book."
(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Jerry Norton)