groups sue to stop
Bonner Bridge Replacement Project
Defenders of Wildlife and the National Wildlife Refuge Association,
represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center, today filed suit
in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina
to stop the Bonner Bridge replacement project.
The lawsuit challenges last year’s decision by state and U.S.
transportation officials to build a replacement bridge parallel to the
current bridge and deal with problems of erosion on Highway 12 as is
Defendants are the North Carolina Department of Transportation and the
Federal Highway Administration.
“We agree that Bonner Bridge must be replaced, and soon. But
decision-makers are ignoring the main problem: how to maintain a safe,
reliable route from the end of the new bridge through a wildlife refuge
on an unstable barrier island,” said Julie Youngman, senior attorney
with the Southern Environmental Law Center, in a media release.
“Like Alaska’s ‘bridge to nowhere,’ the current plan will create North
Carolina’s ‘bridge you can’t get to’ as waves and storms erode the
access road. It’s simply not a viable or legal solution,” Youngman
added. “The selected alternative will undermine the ecological
integrity of the fragile Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge and
threaten the sea turtles and birds for which it was created.”
The lawsuit says that federal and state transportation officials did
not adequately assess or address the environmental consequences of
building a 2.7 mile bridge parallel to the current one and postponing
addressing the problems of erosion on Highway 12 through the Pea Island
National Wildlife Refuge. The defendants, the lawsuit says, violated
the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
The replacement for the aging Bonner Bridge was studied for 20 years
before the U.S. Federal Highway Administration and the North Carolina
Department of Transportation reached an agreement with the U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service to build the “short” bridge.
That Record of Decision was announced in December of last year.
The environmental groups are on record as in favor of a longer 17-mile
bridge that would bypass the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge on
northern Hatteras Island and land near Rodanthe.
State and federal officials deemed that option as too costly.
The bridge, which was opened in 1963, was projected to have a useful
lifespan of 30 years. The projected 1993 replacement date has
come and gone as agencies squabbled about how to replace it on the
fragile barrier island.
Meanwhile, the bridge, while said to be safe by NCDOT officials, has
continued to encounter problems and need repairs.
Dare County and many Hatteras islanders are concerned for the safety of
the traveling public as they cross the bridge, the only land link to
the northern Outer Banks and mainland North Carolina.
The lawsuit asks the court to:
a declaratory judgment stating that the Defendants have violated NEPA,
Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act of 1966, and their
implementing regulations in the respects set forth above;
appropriate preliminary and permanent injunctive relief to ensure that
Defendants comply with the provisions of NEPA, Section 4(f), and their
implementing regulations as described above, and specifically to ensure
that Defendants take no further actions towards proceeding with the
Bonner Bridge Replacement Project until they have complied with those
- Order that
the Record of Decision dated December 20, 2010 be vacated, set aside,
The request for an injunction against moving forward, if granted, would
stop all work on the bridge replacement.
Bids and proposal for the design-build project were due from
contractors to DOT today, but were not scheduled to be opened until
The replacement is expected to cost about $300 million and would not be
completed until at least 2015.
The people of Dare County and visitors who must cross the bridge have
already waited too long for a new, safer bridge, said Warren Judge,
chairman of the Dare County Board of Commissioners.
In a phone call today, he called the environmental groups “bullies,”
and said the lawsuit was “shameful, disruptive, and a delaying tactic.”
“They (the environmental groups) are once again demonstrating their
total disregard for the people in the county, not just the people of
Dare County, who must travel on the bridge,” he said.
“Our logical minds told us this would happen,” said Beth Midgett,
chairwoman of the county’s Citizens’ Committee to Replace the Bonner
Bridge and founder of the grassroots group Bridge Moms, which advocates
for an immediate safer passage for their children and all others.
“This is not the subject of a professor’s white paper,” Midgett
said. “This is the story of our lives.
“We’re not standing down,” Midgett added. “The Bridge Moms are not
standing idly by.”
here to read the complaint filed today to stop the Bonner