of Interior official meets with locals about
Bonner Bridge replacement and beach access
BY CATHERINE KOZAK
down to its essence, replacement of the decrepit bridge over Oregon
Inlet comes down to building a new span at about the same place as the
So why, after nearly two decades of planning, is the Herbert C. Bonner
Bridge replacement project still stuck in a bureaucratic impasse?
That’s one dilemma Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Fish,
Wildlife and Parks Tom Strickland, at the request of Secretary Ken
Salazar and the North Carolina congressional delegation, came to the
Outer Banks this week to attempt to resolve.
“You don’t really have that much of a complicated issue. You’re moving
the bridge a few feet,” Dare County Manager Bobby Outten told
Strickland during a hastily-planned evening meeting on Thursday, Sept.
23, in Manteo.
“It would nice if Fish and Wildlife was saying, ‘How can we help you
get this bridge built?’. We see it that every time we get to the point
where you can do something, another stumbling block is pulled out.”
Two Department of the Interior agencies, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service and the National Park Service, declined recently to sign off on
the latest plan that would immediately start construction of a new
bridge just west of the old one, and plan later work on the
Highway12 corridor to Rodanthe as needed.
“We believe it’s nothing but a stalling process until our bridge
falls,” Allen Burrus, vice-chairman of the Dare County Board of
Commissioners, said. “I know that sounds paranoid, but after so much
time, we have to wonder about it.”
Environmental groups that oppose the bridge plan have lately been
hinting that ferries may be the best solution, an idea that islanders
say would decimate the tourism-based economy and endanger the
Tall and affable, Strickland made a point of shaking hands with most of
the 30 or so people in the room prior to the meeting, which included
representatives from the offices of U.S. Sens. Richard Burr, R-NC, and
Kay Hagan, D-NC, and U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, R-NC., as well as from the
North Carolina Department of Transportation and Dare County.
Beth Midgett, chair of the Dare County Citizens’ Action Committee to
Replace the Bridge Now, and several beach access proponents made the
trek from Hatteras Island to give Strickland their input.
State Rep. Timothy Spear, a Creswell Democrat, was in attendance, but
state Sen. Marc Basnight, a Manteo Democrat, sent aide Chris Dillon to
Noting Bonner’s poor condition, Spear brought up the specter of failure
with hundreds of vehicles stuck on the span during the recent hurricane
“That’s just a scary thought,” he said.
Strickland, also Salazar’s chief of staff, said that as a former DOT
official in Colorado, he is sensitive to the importance of safe
transportation systems. He said he also happened to have been in
Minneapolis to witness that city’s fatal bridge collapse.
“The safety issues are a very specific concern to us,” he said.
With the release of the long-term off-road vehicle management plan for
Cape Hatteras National Seashore expected at year’s end, considerable
comment was also made about the controversial beach driving
John Couch with Outer Banks Preservation Association said that the huge
buffers around nests at Cape Point have devastated his business.
“One thousand meters of protection -- that is not common sense,” he
said. “That chokes off access. You can’t walk there. You can’t fly a
Stan White, who represents Dare on the DOT board, said that he knew the
issue had gotten out of hand a few years ago when he saw “armed guards”
at the beach.
White suggested to Strickland that DOI imitate the successful peregrine
falcon restoration program that involved relocating eggs, rather than
maintaining costly efforts to keep people and predators away from a few
“Why don’t we do that with these piping plovers?” he asked.
Strickland, who toured the Cape Hatteras National Seashore and Pea
Island National Wildlife Refuge today assured everyone that he will
relay their comments to his boss.
“I think you all are very articulate on making your point and we’re
here to solve problems,” he said.
Although he didn’t specify whether he was referring to one or both
issues, Chris Dillon said he noticed a sign “Cape Hatteras National
Seashore, 100 miles” along the highway as he was driving to the meeting.
“I was thinking, what if DOT had to put a sign under that that said
‘CLOSED’?” he said. “It’s a government-created disaster.”
to read the Aug. 5 letter from the Department of the Interior to the
North Carolina congressional delegation. This letter is to Rep.
to read the North Carolina Department of Transportation Sept. 2
letter to the congressional delegation
read the Department of Interior comments on the Environmental
read the Southern Environmental Law Center comments on the
Environmental Assessment, click
read, the Southern Environmental Law Center comments on the
Mid-Currituck Bridge project, click
here to read the editor’s blog, “DOT takes on DOI over Bonner
to read the editor’s blog, “Enough is Enough on Bonner Bridge
replacement – Let’s roll”
to read the editor’s blog, “An update on replacing the Bonner
to read more about the Environmental Assessment of the bridge
replacement project and the public meetings.
for a timeline on replacing the Bonner Bridge