Groups Appeal to Court for Reliable Route to Hatteras
Before the N.C. Department of Transportation commits public resources to building and maintaining a patchwork of bridges and highway in the Atlantic Ocean’s tidal zone and surf for the next 50 years, conservation groups today asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit to ensure that there is adequate public consideration of total project impacts—including disclosure of the long-term costs—and safer, more reliable alternative routes across Oregon Inlet to the village of Rodanthe.
“Instead of constructing a safe, reliable route that would serve North Carolinians for the next 50 years, NCDOT is pushing a piecemeal plan for NC 12 that ignores the basic problem: this stretch of highway continually washes out because the island is eroding out from underneath it,” said Julie Youngman, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “NCDOT seems determined to send taxpayer money out to sea with the highway, as it predictably washes into the ocean.”
The proposed NCDOT project would replace the existing Bonner Bridge over Oregon Inlet without a long-term plan to address the frequent washouts, breaches, and floods along NC 12 through the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, the only access road from Hatteras Island. Storms and high tides regularly over wash NC 12 and cut off access to the mainland for residents, businesses and tourists for weeks at a time. As proposed, NCDOT’s plan fails to fulfill the project’s purpose, as stated by NCDOT: to provide a reliable transportation route across Oregon Inlet to Rodanthe for the next 50 years.
“NCDOT’s insistence on this outdated route for NC 12 has gone beyond the impractical to the absurd,” said Jason Rylander of Defender of Wildlife. “The agency itself has acknowledged that erosion will undo the time, labor and expense of this futile project in less than a decade. There are sustainable alternatives that provide reliable transport and protect the refuge at the same time.”
NCDOT admits that the island is eroding and that the bridges it wants to build within the wildlife refuge, each several miles in length along the beachfront NC 12, will be located on the beach and then in the sea in less than 10 years. Despite the predictable migration of the narrow northern portion of Hatteras Island, NCDOT has proposed a short-term patchwork of new bridges and road segments within the refuge, with no long-term plan.
“Long-term problems require long-term solutions,” said Desiree Sorenson-Groves of the National Wildlife Refuge Association. “NCDOT should consider the futility of constructing numerous road segments and bridges through the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge that will be in the Atlantic Ocean in just a few years.”
NCDOT has not obtained necessary permits to build any of the three bridges it is currently proposing as part of the project. Construction cannot begin until all permits are issued by various agencies, including some that have questioned NCDOT’s piecemeal approach.
Representing Defenders of Wildlife and the National Wildlife Refuge Association, the Southern Environmental Law Center has argued that NCDOT should disclose its plans for building and funding the entire project — including the several bridges currently proposed as well as additional segments of NC 12 within the wildlife refuge — rather than considering just a single replacement bridge in isolation. The conservation groups argue that NCDOT also violated federal law by failing to fairly consider better alternatives to its plan.
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