Rumors of Bonner Bridge closure shot
down, as negotiations continue
By IRENE NOLAN
North Carolina Department of Transportation says it has no plans to
shut down the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge over Oregon Inlet after
Thanksgiving, despite a rumor last week that a post-holiday closure was
Meanwhile, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth
Circuit in Richmond, Va., has just granted its third 30-day extension
of the time for parties in the ongoing legal battle over replacing the
aging bridge to ask for a rehearing by the three-judge panel that
issued an opinion on Aug. 6 or by the entire Appeals Court.
The deadline is now Friday, Dec. 19.
THIRD EXTENSION OF TIME FOR REHEARING
continue out of public view between the North Carolina Department of
Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration and the Southern
Environmental Law Center, on behalf of its clients, to settle a long
legal battle over the state agency's plan to replace the aging bridge.
promised, neither side in the debate about replacing the bridge has
commented on the confidential maneuvering that's going on in Raleigh
and Chapel Hill, nor has either given any hint of how long it might
take to either reach an agreement or announce an impasse.
party had 45 days after the Aug. 6 ruling to ask for a rehearing, but
instead they announced on Sept. 15 that they were in "conversations" to
find a solution.
"Following a complex ruling issued by the U.S.
Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals on Aug. 6," DOT said in a news release
at that time, "both sides determined that it was best to move forward
with confidential discussions to resolve the bridge dispute."
the opinion, the Appeals Court panel disagreed with a large part of the
case that environmental groups made against the bridge replacement plan
-- that DOT did not follow the requirements of the National
Environmental Policy Act and that it illegally segmented the project.
The three judges upheld the decision of a lower court that DOT has
followed all necessary environmental laws.
However, the panel
did remand the part of the ruling that deals with building a road
through federal lands back to a lower court for another look.
after that announcement of negotiations, all of the parties --
including defendant-intervenor, The Cape Hatteras Electric Cooperative
-- petitioned the court to extend the initial 45-day time period to ask
for rehearing for another 30 days.
The reasons, they said, were two-fold.
the extension was necessary to "facilitate ongoing settlement
discussions" and, if successful, no party would have to ask for a
rehearing. An extension would "avoid entangling the court in rehearing
petitions that might prove unnecessary."
The second reason was
that the parties needed additional time to complete the process of
deciding whether to file any rehearing petitions in the Appeals Court's
That petition was granted, and the court extended the deadline from Sept. 22 to Oct. 22.
Friday, Oct. 17, the court granted a second extension. This one moved
the deadline from Oct. 22 to Nov. 21. However, the second petition was
filed by DOT and FHWA only. The agencies cited the same two reasons for
Then the petition notes that the agencies asked the plaintiffs -- SELC and clients -- for their position on the second request.
to the petition, SELC and clients stated that "Plaintiff-Appellants do
not join and take no position on this motion, and believe that the
ongoing settlement negotiations can continue to proceed without an
additional extension of the deadline."
This third petition for
an extension also was filed by only DOT and FHWA, and again the
plaintiffs gave the same response for not joining in.
Again, the court granted the extension without comment.
confidential discussions that could end the case, DOT said in
September, include "replacing the aging Herbert C. Bonner Bridge with a
new parallel bridge while continuing to develop a long-term solution to
the transportation challenges along the stretch of N.C. 12 south of the
bridge to Rodanthe."
On the table for discussion is a 7-mile
span that would run out into the Pamlico Sound from just north of Pea
Island Inlet to northern Rodanthe and would eliminate the need for DOT
to bridge two hotspots where the ocean threatens Highway 12 on the
southern end of the refuge.
One of those hotspots is at Pea
Island Inlet, where a permanent bridge had been under construction
since February. DOT announced on Sept. 10 that it was suspending work
on that project. There has been no further comment on if or when the
project will continue.
RUMORS AND UPCOMING REPAIRS
rumor about a post-Thanksgiving Bonner Bridge closure was circulating
in some areas on Hatteras Island late last week and had some islanders
Last year, the bridge was closed down for
safety reasons shortly after Thanksgiving weekend while sand was pumped in around some scoured out pilings.
spokeswoman for the NCDOT, said in an e-mail that perhaps the rumor got
its start because the agency is gearing up to do some repair work on
the bridge after the first of the year.
"We are getting ready to
award two maintenance project contracts for the bridge: one for
concrete repair under the bridge deck and another for crutch bent
repairs," Garifo said.
Neither project will start until after
Jan. 1, she said, and neither one will require a closure of the bridge.
There will be a lane closure for the concrete repair work, but the
bridge will still be open for traffic in both directions.
to DOT, concrete repairs will be made at approximately 249 areas along
the bridge that had been identified as priority areas during the most
recent regular two-year inspection of the bridge earlier this year.
letting date is Nov. 19 with a contract expected to be awarded in early
to mid-December. The work can begin as early as Jan. 5 and must be
completed by June 6. This work is similar to work that began September
2013 at other areas along the underside of the bridge.
be made to the steel crutch bents in place from bent 108 through 114.
These steel crutch bents were installed in 1989.
As with the
concrete repairs, the letting date is Nov. 19 with a contract expected
to be awarded in early to mid-December. The work can begin as early as
Jan. 5 and must be completed by June 12.
Appeals Court affirms in part and reverses in part lower court ruling on Bonner Bridge...Aug. 6, 2014
Don't believe everything you read..."Shooting the Breeze" blog from Aug. 8, 2014
DOT temporarily suspends work on new Pea Island bridge...Sept. 10, 2014
UPDATE: DOT and SELC in 'discussions' about Bonner Bridge replacement...Sept. 15, 2014
UPDATE: New concept includes 7-mile bridge into Pamlico Sound...Sept. 16, 2014
7-mile bridge could be costly to CHEC customers...Oct. 1, 2014
Court of Appeals grants another 30-day extension for rehearing of bridge lawsuit...Oct. 21, 2014