In seeking approval for the State Ports Authority's plan to convert a rusting shed into a large, new cruise ship terminal on the Cooper River, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers indicated to federal authorities that the project was essentially driving five pilings and doing some maintenance to the existing building.

The argument didn't stand up in District Court, and now the Corps and the SPA have conceded that they are going to have to apply anew.

This is a good opportunity for them to remove the wraps and show the public as well as the feds that the project will not harm the environment or the health of people who live and work nearby.

Some critics, who are alarmed by the SPA's refusal to submit to reasonable standards regarding the cruise ship industry here, fear the Corps will try for another shortcut that would bypass public hearings.

That would be a mistake. District Judge Richard Gergel didn't mince words in his September order. He said the Corps gave the issue "a bum's rush" and failed to show that it met standards required by the National Environmental Protection Act and the National Health Protection Act.

The Corps should be eager to save face after such an embarrassing rebuke. A good way to do that would be to take the high road - a process that allows the public to ask questions and have input into the SPA project.

Realistically, that conversation would probably be - and should be - broad. It could include how the environment would be affected - perhaps how adding plug-in power to the dock would reduce emissions that threaten people's health.

But a discussion would also likely touch on how traffic, the historic district, heritage tourism and the economy would be affected when a new cruise ship terminal is complete.

It could include a discussion of the best site for a terminal - both where the SPA wants to it to be and alternative locations, as well.

The process would take time for the SPA to prepare for and execute. And such debates are sure to be contentious. But they could also be immensely helpful.

For one thing, they could help the SPA pursue the best plan possible. Also, an open and frank conversation could restore some of the public trust, which has been shaken by the SPA's apparent disregard for the public's concerns.

Regardless of what side of the controversial cruise ship issue they stand on, people should find it unacceptable for public officials to give "a bum's rush" to issues regarding the health and environment of the area. Those who want to see the terminal built should be confident that the SPA's case is strong enough to meet permit requirements and gain public support.

And the process should be transparent. It does, after all, involve public money and public land. And the cruise ship business does make a difference to the entire area.

So far, the State Ports Authority has refused to stipulate legally how it will limit the size and number of cruise ships here. Instead, it has asked the public to trust that it will do the right thing.

Until the cruise terminal discussion is open and forthright, that trust is going to be elusive.