UPDATE: DOT says
adequately addressed concerns
raised by lawsuit and will continue work as planned
a last minute lawsuit seeking to stop the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge
replacement project, work will continue as planned unless a federal
judge says otherwise, a spokesperson for the state Department of
Transportation said on Wednesday.
“We’re going to stay on our timeline,” said Greer Beaty, DOT’s director
“Since it’s a design-build project, we think that is an appropriate
course of action,” she added.
Bids have been submitted by three contractors, she said, and the bids
will be opened on July 19. Once a contract is awarded, the
contractor will start design of the bridge and start seeking necessary
In the complaint filed in federal court on Friday --- 10 days before
the deadline allowing a challenge--- the Southern Environmental Law
Center, representing nonprofit environmental groups Defenders of
Wildlife and the National Wildlife Refuge Association, contended that
NCDOT and the Federal Highway Administration did not comply with
federal environmental protection regulations in its choice of an
alternative to replace the 49-year-old bridge over Oregon Inlet.
Beaty said that DOT was not surprised at the action, but that the
agency does not doubt it has adequately addressed the concerns stated
in the lawsuit.
“Everyone is confident we have studied everything we can possibly
study,” she said.
The bridge and 15 miles of highway between Bodie Island and Rodanthe is
one of the most studied transportation corridors in the state, she
said. Over more than two decades, the department has spent $16.6
million and issued seven different documents analyzing impacts of
DOT announced a record of decision, the final step in the project’s
planning phase, in December, effectively approving construction of a
2.7-mile bridge adjacent to the existing bridge, in addition to use of
various remedies on Highway 12 through Pea Island National Wildlife
Refuge as needed in the future.
Called the “Parallel Bridge Corridor with NC 12 Transportation
Management Plan Alternative,” the project will cost $300 million for
the initial phase that replaces the bridge.
But the plaintiffs’ attorneys say that the 17.5-mile alternative that
bypasses Pea Island altogether, favored by environmentalists and refuge
officials, was not studied as required by the National Environmental
Policy Act, or NEPA. Nor, they contend, were other alternatives like
high-speed ferries or tolling.
“The short parallel bridge simply doesn’t solve the problem. The
reality is that Highway 12 will continue to wash out with every major
storm and can’t remain in its current location,” Adam Kron, staff
attorney for Defenders of Wildlife, said in a prepared statement.
“By punting necessary decisions to ‘later phases,’ NCDOT and the
Federal Highway Administration have attempted to avoid controversy, but
have ultimately done everyone a disservice. The Pea Island National
Wildlife Refuge as well as the Hatteras residents and visitors deserve
a reliable, safe and permanent solution.”
Much of the argument in the 42-page complaint is centered on the
alleged failure of transportation officials to agree to build the long
bridge, based on what the plaintiffs characterize as politics.
In addition to strong objections from Dare County residents and
officials, DOT has said that upfront costs are too high --- about $1.4
billion --- for the long bridge. But the plaintiffs say that
costs over 50 years are about the same for the short bridge when
maintenance of the road is added to the tab.
Fault is also found with inadequate study of maintenance of the
terminal groin on the south end of the inlet, including what the
environmental groups contend is a decrease in habitat for birds; of
impacts of noise and construction along Highway 12 on wildlife and
habitat in the refuge; of long-term effects of sea-level rise on the
shoreline; and of ways to mitigate adverse impacts of the project.
DOT’s spokesperson, however, said that if anything, the overriding
threat of a lawsuit made the agency “work doubly hard” to be
“The reason there is a lawsuit is because there is a fundamental
difference of opinion,” Beaty said. “At this point, our position is now
it’s before a judge, and the judge will make the decision.”
Plaintiffs are seeking an injunction to stop the project until the NEPA
regulations are complied with. The judge could dismiss the complaint,
schedule a hearing, issue an order from the bench, or a combination of
The case has been assigned to U.S. District Chief Judge Louise Wood
Flanigan in New Bern. The summons served July 4 on the defendants must
be answered within 21 days.