Press Release | January 5, 2011

Paving paradise: Conservation groups react to decision on North Carolina bridge construction


• The North Carolina Department of Transportation today made available to the public the Record of Decision (“ROD”) signed by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) on the plan to replace the deteriorating Herbert C. Bonner Bridge in Dare County, NC, paving the way for construction of a new bridge at the north end of Hatteras Island, NC, parallel to the current bridge.
• The ROD outlines a plan to replace only the bridge now, but leaves until later determination how to maintain a 12.5-mile highway to the southern Outer Banks through Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. The highway is designated as the island’s hurricane evacuation route but routinely washes away in heavy storms. The ROD acknowledges that at least three sections of the highway may already be deteriorated to the point that they require action.
• The approved plan will necessitate ongoing road work that will degrade the fragile barrier island refuge, which is a haven for hundreds of species, including migratory waterfowl and the threatened loggerhead sea turtle and piping plover.
• Senior officials with FHWA and the Department of the Interior (DOI) exchanged letters on December 17, 2010, stating that they were agreeing to various future protections for the refuge in order to resolve DOI’s objections to the parallel bridge replacement plan and allow the construction to proceed.

WASHINGTON (Jan. 5, 2011) – The following are statements from the Southern Environmental Law Center, Defenders of Wildlife, Audubon North Carolina and the National Wildlife Refuge Association:

“We agree that the bridge must be replaced, and soon. But decision-makers are sticking their heads in the sand by ignoring the main problem: how to maintain a safe, reliable route from the end of the bridge through the precarious, unstable barrier island,” said Julie Youngman, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. “Like Alaska’s ‘bridge to nowhere,’ this plan will create North Carolina’s ‘bridge you can’t get to’ as the island continues to erode.”

“We’re disappointed that NCDOT and the Federal Highway Administration have chosen to approach this significant project with blinders on,” said Adam Kron, staff attorney for Defenders of Wildlife. “Highway 12, in its current location, will continue to wash out with every major storm. By approving the parallel bridge, the agencies have doomed the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge to become a permanent construction zone and done a disservice to Hatteras residents, who deserve a reliable and safe route on and off the island.”

“Building this bridge will force traffic through the shifting sands of Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, undermining the ecological integrity of the fragile refuge and threatening the sea turtles and birds for which it was created,” said Walker Golder, acting executive director of Audubon North Carolina.

“In a triumph of politics over reason, the federal government has chosen to endorse a bridge proposal that will undermine the ecological integrity of a National Wildlife Refuge while also saddling U.S. taxpayers with a limitless construction bill thanks to climate change and sea level rise,” said Evan Hirsche, president of the National Wildlife Refuge Association.

For more information on the ROD, click here.

Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With more than 1 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit

The National Wildlife Refuge Association (NWRA) is an independent non-profit organization whose mission is to conserve America’s wildlife heritage for future generations through strategic programs that protect, enhance, and expand the National Wildlife Refuge System and the landscapes beyond its boundaries that secure its ecological integrity. For more information, visit

The National Audubon Society has more than one million members and supporters, offices in 23 states, and a presence in all 50 states through more than 450 certified chapters, nature centers, sanctuaries, and education and science programs. Locally, Audubon maintains a North Carolina state office which works on behalf of Audubon’s more than 10,000 members and supporters in nine chapters across state. Audubon’s mission is to conserve and restore natural ecosystems, focusing on birds, other wildlife, and their habitats for the benefit of humanity and the earth’s biological diversity. It carries out that mission nationally through a variety of activities including education, habitat conservation and public policy advocacy.

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