July 31, 2014
Budget proposal includes provision that
could speed up bridge replacement
By IRENE NOLAN
North Carolina General Assembly's final proposed budget, which was made
public last night, includes a provision that would allow the governor
to bypass some state environmental laws and potentially speed up the
replacement of the aging Herbert C. Bonner Bridge over Oregon Inlet.
The provision, which all but names the bridge, is worded like this:
issuance of an executive order to waive requirements for an
environmental document or permit issued under Articles 1, 4, and 7 of
Chapter 113A of the General Statutes for the repair, protection, safety
enhancement, or replacement of a component of the state highway system
that provides the sole road access to an incorporated municipality or
an unincorporated inhabited area bordering the Atlantic Ocean or any
coastal sound where bridge or road conditions as a result of the events
leading to the declaration of the state of emergency pose a substantial
risk to public health, safety, or welfare."
governor's executive power would apply only to state laws that are
slowing the bridge replacement and not a federal challenge to the
Under the provision, the governor could order
that the project move ahead despite pending legal action by the
Southern Environmental Law Center, on behalf of its clients, that
challenges a Major CAMA Permit issued by the state for the bridge
The permit was issued in September 2012. SELC
asked for a hearing to appeal that action to an administrative law
judge, which the Coastal Resources Commission denied in October
2012. The environmental group then asked for a judicial review of
the case, which was granted last year by a Wake County Superior Court
judge. A hearing on that action is scheduled for November.
for all practical purposes, the state challenge is on hold for now,
while a federal lawsuit, also filed by SELC, plays out. In that case,
SELC and its clients have sued the Federal Highway Administration and
the North Carolina Department of Transportation to stop their plan for
replacing the bridge.
Last fall, a U.S. District Court judge in New Bern ruled in favor of FWHA and DOT, allowing the project to move forward.
appealed the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
in Richmond, Va. The appeals court conducted a hearing on the lawsuit
in May, and a decision is expected at any time.
However, even if
the decision is in favor of the state and federal government, the
bridge replacement would still have to survive the challenge to the
state-issued CAMA permit.
The provision in the budget proposal
would allow the governor to eliminate that challenge based on the
decrepit bridge's "risk to public health, safety, and welfare."
But there is no guarantee that the legal wrangling would stop there.
executive order could certainly get the bridge replacement back on
track, but there is nothing to prohibit SELC from challenging the new
law in court.
The latest budget proposal is a $21.3 billion
spending plan for the fiscal year that began on July 1. The
Senate and House have been wrangling over a compromise for most of this
The spending bill must pass in each chamber twice, which
is expected to happen between today and Saturday. The governor
will then have 30 days to sign or veto it before it automatically