Court Decision Keeps Reliable Outer Banks Transportation Route Moving Forward

CHAPEL HILL, N.C.--A federal court today ruled in favor of conservation groups represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center defending the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s plan to provide safe, reliable transportation on Hatteras Island by moving a section of Highway NC-12 into Pamlico Sound, away from high-erosion areas in Rodanthe and the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge where the current road frequently washes out.

“It’s wonderful that this project is moving forward. It protects travelers on Highway 12 from shutdowns due to storms and sea level rise, while returning 19 acres of restored habitat to the Pea Island Refuge – it is truly a win for the whole community,” said Desiree Sorenson-Groves of the National Wildlife Refuge Association, which along with Defenders of Wildlife was represented by SELC in defending the project.

The Rodanthe bridge is part of the Bonner Bridge replacement project. It was selected by a unanimous vote of all 13 state and federal agencies participating in the project. The Bonner Bridge project was recently criticized by the Trump Administration as an example of excessive environmental planning.

“Today’s result is an example of agencies collaborating to select the right approach, adapt to sea level rise and more frequent storms, and preserve natural resources while keeping traffic flowing safely and smoothly,” said Kym Hunter, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “It is essential that our state and local agencies plan for long-term transportation solutions that keep people safe and adapt to changing conditions such as the highly volatile environment that surrounds NC Highway 12.”

The bridge at Rodanthe, known as “Phase IIb” of the Bonner Bridge project, is the first of what could be multiple sections of Highway 12 to be moved out of high-erosion areas within the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. Another section, known as “Phase IIa” of the project is located in the middle of the Refuge at the Pea Island inlet that opened due to Hurricane Irene in 2011. Several temporary bridges have been constructed along Highway 12 in this area.  A more permanent, resilient solution would be to permanently move the highway in this area out into Pamlico Sound to avoid continued erosion.
 
“Today’s decision is welcome news to keep a smart transportation solution that conserves important wildlife habitat moving forward,” said Jason Rylander, senior staff attorney, Defenders of Wildlife. “We’ll continue to encourage effective planning that preserves the Outer Banks beaches and wildlife we all love.”

Construction on the Rodanthe bridge will begin this summer.

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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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