the state Department of Transportation wants to build a replacement for
the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge, then it’s going to have to give up its
land at the old lifesaving station on the northern end of Hatteras,
figure out how to prevent bird strikes on the span, and design a model
that can predict storm impacts.
Those are essentially the conditions set by Pea Island National
Wildlife Refuge manager Mike Bryant to find the project compatible
within the refuge, a critical determination required for the Bonner
project to move forward.
“I’d be asking for 12.23 acres at the Old Coast Guard Station and the
road,” Bryant said last week. “If I can manage that for wildlife, it’s
adequate compensation for the land they’re going to need for the new
As the March 14 deadline to submit comments approaches, the DOT is
still mulling over its response to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s
draft determination, released last month in response to the agency’s
request for a Highway 12 right-of-way permit.
“We’re getting that prepared and we’ll get it done within the next
week,” said Victor Barbour, NCDOT technical services administrator.
Although he declined to specify where there may be disagreement about
the specifications, Barbour said the transportation department is doing
a study on the bird fatalities on the bridge, including whether the
dead birds are protected migratory birds or common seagulls.
The study will take about a year to complete, he said, and will help
determine what sort of engineering could help alleviate bird
strikes. Barbour said he is not aware of any bridge in the
that has incorporated such a design.
But Bryant said that there are a variety of methods that have been used
elsewhere in the country that can help a bird avoid hitting the
guardrails, like poles positioned at a certain height. But
up to DOT to choose the appropriate design. Not only will it be good
for birds, he said, it would also keep the motoring public from having
“a pelican go through your windshield.”
Part of what might explain the strikes, he said, is that birds are
drawn in by wind eddies created by traffic, and they don’t have enough
time to correct their course.
“The bottom line is there’s dead birds on the bridge, and it happens
all the time,” Bryant said. “We would like to mitigate for that loss,
at least in the refuge.”
In exchange for the 10 acres or so of refuge land lost in the bridge
project, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants the 10 acres under
the historic Coast Guard Station, currently managed by the North
Carolina Aquariums -- as well as unmaintained road south of the station
-- to be turned over to the refuge. Bryant said that amounts to only
half of the compensatory mitigation that the refuge’s compatibility
policy would provide.
It would be up to the state whether or not to keep the station in place
on the southeast corner of Oregon Inlet, Bryant said, or relocate it to
a different site. If it remains, the refuge would permit DOT to build a
boardwalk and observation deck from the existing parking lot at the
foot of the bridge.
Built in 1897, the station, which is on the National Register of
Historic Places, is visible, peeking over sand dunes, to drivers
traveling south over the bridge. After the Coast Guard vacated the
10-acre site in 1988, it was turned over to Dare County.
the man who had originally given the land to the Coast Guard sued Dare
County, but lost. In 2000, the county gave the land to the state, which
in turn assigned it to the state Aquariums to administer.
For years, the station sat abandoned, plagued by vandals and nearly
buried by wind-blown sand. Then in 2008, modern dormitory buildings
were demolished and the historic station was weatherized, keeping the
structure safe while the state figured out what would happen with the
controversial Bonner Bridge project.
Construction on the new bridge parallel to the existing span is
expected to begin late this year. The new bridge is targeted to open
traffic in 2015.
At one time, a conceptual plan for restoration of the
11,361-square-foot wood frame Oregon Inlet station building and
expansion of the site into a marine and coastal research center was
under consideration. But the plan was shelved after the state decided
to rebuild Jennette’s Pier in Nags Head.
David Griffin, state Aquariums director, said that Bryant’s proposal is
still being evaluated and negotiated, including the impacted area that
the refuge is claiming needs to be mitigated.
The amount the refuge wants mitigated, he said, “exceeds” the
established ratios and equivalents for impacts.
Griffin said that whether or not the structure may have to be moved
will be determined by what amount of land, if any, the state agrees to
sign over to the refuge. He also said that no specific alternate site
has been discussed, nor has any specific use for the station been under
“That’s all up in the air,” he said, “depending on the resolution of
all these issues.”
Other conditions in the draft compatibility determination include
treatment to prevent spread of invasive plants, which Bryant said is a
routine request, and the creation of a computer model that would be
able predict storm impacts ahead of time, based on statistical data.
“Right now, we’re all reactive,” he said.
Bryant said that he believes that the refuge has proposed reasonable
stipulations while accommodating the state’s request.
“In all fairness, we heard each other out as much as we needed,” he
said. “I’ve listened long and hard -- for 11 years now. I’ve made my
determination based on the best available science and my best
For more information, and to view a link to the draft
compatibility determination, see: http://www.fws.gov/alligatorriver/news/2012%20News/news-BonnerBridge1.html