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Carnival Talks Set on Water Quality Suit

Environment: Cruise line officials to meet with Long Beach group that says ships will pollute the port.

February 21, 2001|STEPHEN GREGORY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The two sides in a lawsuit that has stalled construction of a $16-million cruise ship terminal in Long Beach are scheduled to meet today in an effort to settle the dispute that has pitted local environmentalists against the world's busiest cruise line.

Representatives of Carnival Cruise Lines Inc. and the Long Beach chapter of the international Surfrider Foundation environmental group plan to sit down for the second time in two weeks to try to settle a lawsuit that aims to keep the Miami-based cruise operator from mooring ships next to the idle Queen Mary luxury liner.

The environmentalists claim that propeller wash from the cruise ships will churn up toxic sediment and bring more problems to an already polluted waterway.

"It's already polluted, but let's try to clean it up. Let's not throw more trash in it," said Robert Palmer, chairman for the Surfrider Foundation's Long Beach chapter.

The chapter sued Carnival and the Port of Long Beach in a lawsuit filed Dec. 14 in Los Angeles County Superior Court to block construction of a new cruise terminal on the east side of the port's Pier J. The terminal's design would usher passengers through the Queen Mary and the former Spruce Goose dome on their way to board their cruise. Queen's Seaport Development Inc., which operates the Queen Mary, would lease the terminal property to Carnival.

Palmer said Surfrider would have no problem if the cruise ships were to dock on the west side of Pier J, which fronts some of the busiest waters at the Port of Long Beach.

Carnival, meanwhile, says it plans to meet all legally required environmental safeguards. "It's my understanding that we have done a very extensive environmental impact report and do not feel that there are any environmental issues still unaddressed," said Jennifer de la Cruz, spokeswoman for Carnival Corp., parent company of Carnival Cruise Lines.

In 1999, Carnival, which carries more passengers than any other cruise line, announced its intention to move its two locally based ships--the Elation and the Holiday--from the Port of Los Angeles to Long Beach. Carnival accounts for half of the roughly 1 million cruise ship passengers that every year stream through World Cruise Terminal operated by the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro. Merchants there, particularly at the struggling Ports O' Call themed shopping village, fear relocating the ships will damage business.

Long Beach businesses, especially the Queen Mary attraction and the shops at Shoreline Marina Village nearby, stand to gain.

Travis Montgomery, a vice president with Queen's Seaport Development, said the Carnival project has already received state and local permits and is awaiting resolution of the lawsuit before breaking ground. "Everything is poised and ready to go," he said. "After resolution, construction could start quite rapidly."

The project is expected to take 18 months to complete.

Doug Carstens, an attorney representing Surfrider, called the first round of settlement talks constructive. If today's negotiations end in a stalemate, he said, there could be further talks or the lawsuit could proceed to Judge Dzintra Janavs' courtroom for trial. "Our ultimate aim is to protect the water quality there," he said.

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