DOT comments fuel conflict over Bonner Bridge
Posted April 1, 2014
A Hatteras Island resident we talked with in producing our documentary “Bridge in Troubled Water” called the Bonner Bridge replacement debate a reflection of our polarized, partisan politics at the national level. It’s too bad to see it trickle down to conversations over building a bridge.
Nevertheless many island residents have drawn their line in the sand and if you’re on the same side as the environmentalists then they are against you and everything about you. Those they’re against like to point out that the natural environment of Hatteras Island is what drew people there to begin with.
The foundation for the bitterness was laid several years ago with new restrictions on beach driving to protect bird-nesting areas. That fueled an anti-environmentalist fervor that led to people being shouted down at public meetings, people being screamed and cursed at in parking lots, vandalism and threats of physical violence. That incivility has extended into the debate over the Bonner Bridge.
It doesn’t help that state leaders throw gas on the fire with public name-calling as DOT Secretary Tony Tata and state Sen. Bill Cook did, calling environmentalists “ivory tower elitists” and “nuts."
Tata and Cook have every right to be frustrated by the Southern Environmental Center’s lawsuit that has once again delayed the replacement of the Bonner Bridge and to be angered by SELC news releases criticizing the state’s replacement plans. But, as leaders and public officials, they should also hold themselves to a higher standard and not empower those who choose to use the tactics of threats, harassment and intimidation in debates over public policy. They should be role models who encourage, not discourage, civil discourse.