Conservation Groups Defend Key Part of Bonner Bridge Replacement Project
Chapel Hill, N.C.—The Southern Environmental Law Center asked a federal court today to join an existing lawsuit to help defend the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s plan to provide safe, reliable transportation on Hatteras Island in North Carolina’s Outer Banks. A small group of property owners recently challenged NCDOT’s approval of a bridge near Rodanthe that would avoid a high-erosion area of NC-12 that frequently shuts down, stranding travelers and costing taxpayers millions of dollars in perpetual maintenance. Following years of study, NCDOT finally signed the construction contract for the bridge earlier this year.
SELC is representing Defenders of Wildlife and the National Wildlife Refuge Association, 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 the current lawsuit is necessary to ensure continued access to the Bonner Bridge and is supported unanimously by the 13 state and federal agencies overseeing the project.
“The transportation agencies, management of the Pea Island Wildlife Refuge, local citizens, and conservation groups all support this common sense solution to the frequent shutdowns of Highway 12 near Rodanthe,” said Derb Carter, director of the North Carolina offices of the Southern Environmental Law Center. “This bridge plan will protect the highway that so many residents and tourists depend on while preserving the wildlife refuge at the same time. We hope this lawsuit doesn’t derail this important work to create a long-term solution for the Bonner Bridge replacement project corridor.”
NCDOT previously considered elevating NC-12 in its existing easement through the southern portion of the wildlife refuge and Rodanthe. That plan would have quickly led to miles of highway suspended over the National Seashore beach and the Atlantic Ocean as the shoreline continues its westward migration. After numerous state and federal agencies and members of the public raised concerns about this option, NCDOT revisited the available solutions and announced that it supported a bridge that avoids the high-erosion area near Rodanthe. This bridge will swing into Pamlico Sound before rejoining the existing highway further north. Later projects could relocate additional sections of NC-12, according to a preliminary study recently released by NCDOT. The agency has ruled out the perpetual dumping of additional sand on the beach as too expensive and not feasible.
We asked NCDOT to carefully consider options that could move vulnerable sections of coastal
NC-12 into the more sheltered waters of Pamlico Sound, and that is exactly what the agencies have done for Rodanthe,” said Jason Rylander, senior staff attorney for Defenders of Wildlife. “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. In this case, it’s a win-win for people and wildlife.”
While the previous Rodanthe bridge plan failed to earn support from numerous permitting and resource agencies involved in the project, the Pamlico Sound bridge option was selected as the best choice by every one of these agencies. NCDOT’s contract to design and build the bridge saved $35-55 million off its estimated cost and will be completed a year earlier than originally planned.
The Southern Environmental Law Center is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. With nine offices across the region (Charlottesville, VA; Chapel Hill, NC; Atlanta, GA; Charleston, SC; Washington, DC; Birmingham, AL; Nashville, TN; Asheville, NC; and Richmond, VA), 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 the South’s natural resources and the health and well-being of all the people in our region. www.SouthernEnvironment.org