October 25, 2010



Officials talk about emergency plan in case bridge fails again


BY CATHERINE KOZAK



The planning process to replace the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge, begun soon after the ship hit the span 20 years ago, has turned out to be as difficult and unruly as some trips through Oregon Inlet.

At the brink of approval of the latest design plan, state and federal officials are currently working to resolve an impasse that is preventing start of construction.

Built in 1963, the 2.5-mile span outlived its expected lifespan years ago, and is considered in poor condition. Only constant maintenance and repairs keep the bridge safe to cross.

Concerns about additional delays in the replacement project, coupled with the bridge’s continued deterioration , spurred  North Carolina Rep. Timothy Spear, D-Creswell, to recently call a meeting to nail down an emergency plan in case the Bonner Bridge fails again.

“We need the new one in place before anything happens to the one we have now,” said Beth Midgett, chairwoman of Dare County Citizens’ Action Committee to Replace the Bonner Bridge. It would be an extended emergency. It wouldn’t be a month or two.”

Dare County has had a contingency plan in place since 2002 that includes an emergency ferry system between Rodanthe and Stumpy Point, said Dare County Emergency Management Director Sandy Sanderson.
    
But the system has its limits.
    
“It certainly doesn’t allow them to continue the lifestyle and the movement people like to do with the bridge,” he said.
    
Maintenance of the channels used by those ferries is also a problem because of costs, Sanderson said.
 
Similar to the experience 20 years ago, other concerns would be emergency response, law enforcement staffing, electric power supply, and telephone service.  

But loss of the bridge means more than temporarily losing essential services and supplies on Hatteras Island, Warren Judge, chairman of the county Board of Commissioners, told Spear.

“Sustaining the population down there also means sustaining an economy,” he said. “We’ll be in a state of despair because there will be no economy.”

Spear asked county and state officials to coordinate a plan to address the worst case scenario of loss of the bridge.

Doug Hoell, director of the state Division of Emergency Management, who was involved in the crisis in 1990, said that the state has available resources, such as emergency shelters and helicopters.

“I certainly hope we’re team players here,” Hoell said. “We want to support you as much as we can.”

                   





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