Battle over Bonner Bridge reaches appeals court
Posted May 13
Richmond, Va. — The latest twist in the tortuous plan to replace the Bonner Bridge took place Tuesday in Virginia, where a three-judge panel heard arguments from the North Carolina Department of Transportation and environmental groups.
In September, a lower court judge ruled that the state's plan to replace the 50-year-old span with a parallel structure at an estimated cost of $216 million should go forward.
An attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center told the judges that the state has not considered alternatives that would better protect the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge.
Attorney Julie Youngman said, "The bridge is standing like a gun barrel pointing into the refuge," and that the state's plan would violate the National Environmental Policy Act.
Youngman said the lack of specificity about further plans to replace or reinforce 15 miles of N.C. Highway 12 also worry her clients.
"The sky is literally the limit," she said.
Arguing for the Federal Highway Administration, lawyer Robert Lundman said that the environmental analysis has long been done for the N.C. 12 corridor, but the state's plans remain unclear because of the area's unique geography.
"It's hard to make this choice because of the dynamic nature of this island," he said. "Land is moving, no one knows for sure where the next storm is going to hit, where a breach might or might not occur."
The environmental groups want a longer, potentially more costly bridge across Pamlico Sound that would avoid the treacherous Oregon Inlet and bypass Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge and sections of N.C. 12 that are regularly washed out.
It could be weeks or even months before the judges issue their ruling.
Timeline: Bridge in Troubled Water