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Legal tangles block Bonner Bridge replacement

Posted December 4, 2013

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— The state has a plan and funding to replace Bonner Bridge on the Outer Banks, but two lawsuits have put those plans on hold.

Built in 1963 for $4 million, the bridge linking Hatteras Island to the mainland was designed to last only 30 years. As far back as 1989, the state Department of Transportation planned on replacing the bridge, but obstacles piled up along the way.

In 1990, a runaway dredge badly damaged the bridge and shut it down for nearly four months. Coastal storms chewed away at the aging bridge in subsequent years, racking up $56 million in repairs over the past 23 years.

The DOT analyzed and debated various Bonner Bridge replacements to keep traffic flowing, including a 17-mile span across Pamlico Sound that bypassed the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. Instead of that $1.15 billion plan, officials chose a $216 million bridge that parallels Bonner Bridge but is designed to withstand erosion.

Construction was set to start months ago, but environmental court battles continue to keep the replacement on hold.

"Their plan is going to turn a rare and unique wildlife refuge into a 50-year construction zone," Julie Youngman, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, said Wednesday.

Proposed Bonner Bridge replacement Parallel bridge along Outer Banks at heart of fight

SELC is one of the plaintiffs challenging the plan to replace Bonner Bridge, and spokeswoman Kathleen Sullivan said the organization has tried to work with DOT on finding ways to pay for the longer bridge.

"We engaged in discussions with NCDOT to search for a more reliable route that avoids areas prone to wash-out and were discouraged when NCDOT abruptly ended those discussions recently," Sullivan said in an email.

Although a federal judge sided with the state in September over the replacement bridge, the decision has been appealed.

Transportation Secretary Tony Tata and local officials criticized the legal challenge on Wednesday as they discussed the emergency repair efforts to the existing bridge, which was closed Tuesday because excessive underwater erosion around its base left it vulnerable to collapse.

"These ivory tower elitists file these lawsuits," Tata said.

"I'm not so grateful about the stupidity of what these environmental nuts are doing to us down here," said Sen. Bill Cook, R-Dare.

Youngman said such rhetoric won't help Hatteras Island residents get a new bridge.

8 Comments

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  • makemyday Dec 6, 2013

    Maybe they should put some wind turbines on the outer banks then the Federal government would probably pay for a bridge and get around any enviromental problems. They will spend billions for some wind turbines.

  • BubbaDukeforPresident Dec 6, 2013

    I agree with jimthorne73. If it's that important to you, fund it yourself. That goes for other causes as well.

  • Ex-Republican Dec 5, 2013

    Southern Environmental Law Center ... groups like these give environmentalists a really bad reputation and destroy their credibility. I agree with other posters here. Let the so called environmentalist pick up the tab for the bridge.

  • jimthorne73 Dec 5, 2013

    The extra cost of a longer bridge should come from an environment agency budget not from the Dot.

  • huxter72 Dec 5, 2013

    Tata is precise in his assessment of the environmentalist.Bunch of leftist, the whole lot of them.

  • rmadry Dec 5, 2013

    Just one more reason why this nation needs a loser pays concept for court cases. Let these "environmentalistas pay for delaying these needed projects.

  • Milkman Dec 4, 2013

    I'm sure if the $1.2B plan was approved, then another environment group would sue to block it. But hey, if the environmental groups raise the extra billion dollars needed, I'm all for the longer bridge.

    What I want to know is why the state doesn't just defy the court and start building it? Follow the lead of the current administration with the executive branch just doing what they want with no regard to what the judicial branch says.

  • dk12 Dec 4, 2013

    so how much money has the enviromental group raised for the longer bridge? any? if its so important to them..RAISE THE MONEY FOR THE LONGER BRIDGE..or go away..I sure DOT will accept you $$$ for a new longer bridge without question..but can you raise in before the current falls into the ocean?