Court Decision Allows Outer Banks Bridge to Avoid NC-12 Wash-Outs to Continue

CHAPEL HILL, N.C.--A federal appeals court decision today allows construction to continue on an Outer Banks bridge to move a frequently-washed-out section of Highway NC-12 near Rodanthe out of the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge on Hatteras Island and into the sheltered waters of Pamlico Sound.  The Southern Environmental Law Center, representing Defenders of Wildlife and the National Wildlife Refuge Association, helped defend the decision by N.C. Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration, which had been challenged in a lawsuit by a small group of rental property owners. Today’s decision affirms that the transportation agencies complied with environmental laws in selecting the Rodanthe bridge.

“Moving this portion of Highway 12 away from high-erosion areas in the Pea Island Refuge and into Pamlico Sound is a well-reasoned, common-sense solution to avoid the frequent shutdowns of Highway 12 that has unanimous approval by thirteen different state and federal agencies as well as the U.S. District Court, and now a unanimous Court of Appeals decision,” said Derb Carter, director of the North Carolina offices of the Southern Environmental Law Center.  “NCDOT should plan now to start moving more threatened sections of the highway out of the refuge and into the sound, to ensure this lifeline remains safe and reliable for residents and tourists while preserving the refuge at the same time.”

In the property owners’ lawsuit, SELC represented the same groups who reached a widely-praised 2015 settlement agreement with the transportation agencies that allowed the Bonner Bridge replacement to move forward.  The Rodanthe bridge at issue in today’s ruling is necessary to ensure continued access to the Bonner Bridge.  

“The planning process worked, and this new bridge plan will eliminate travel disruptions caused by beach erosion and storm breaches that affect thousands of people’s lives and threaten vulnerable wildlife habitat,” said Jason Rylander, senior staff attorney for Defenders of Wildlife.  “In this case, it’s a win-win for people and wildlife.”

After numerous state and federal agencies and members of the public raised concerns about a prior plan to elevate the highway within its existing easement along the oceanfront, NCDOT revisited the available solutions and announced that it supported a bridge that avoids the high-erosion area near Rodanthe.  The bridge will swing into Pamlico Sound before rejoining the existing highway further north.  Construction began this summer and is expected to be complete by 2020.  Later projects could relocate additional sections of NC-12, according to a preliminary study released by NCDOT.  This fall, Gov. Cooper signed Executive Order 80, which requires NCDOT to consider the impacts of climate change on its operations.

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Note to editors: A map of the project is available at https://www.ncdot.gov/projects/nc-12-rodanthe/Pages/default.aspx

About the Southern Environmental Law Center
For more than 30 years, the Southern Environmental Law Center has used the power of the law to champion the environment of the Southeast. With over 70 attorneys and nine offices across the region, SELC is widely recognized as the Southeast’s foremost environmental organization and regional leader. SELC works on a full range of environmental issues to protect our natural resources and the health and well-being of all the people in our region. www.SouthernEnvironment.org  

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