NCDOT gets fourth time extension,
no end in sight to negotiations
By IRENE NOLAN
looking extremely unlikely that the parties involved in negotiating a
settlement to a long legal battle over replacing the aging Herbert C.
Bonner Bridge over Oregon Inlet will reach an agreement before the end
of the year.
The North Carolina Department of Transportation and
the Federal Highway Administration asked for and have received
the fourth extension of the time in which they can ask the U.S. Court
of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Va., for a rehearing of
an August ruling in a case brought by the Southern Environmental Law
Center, on behalf of its clients, to stop the planned bridge
The request for an extension was filed on Friday,
Dec. 12, and was granted by the court yesterday. The new deadline to
ask for a rehearing is Thursday, Jan. 16.
The Cape Hatteras Electric Cooperative is also involved in the case as defendant-intervenors.
negotiations continue out of public view, and, as 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.
Each 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
"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."
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 28 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."
The third petition for an extension also was filed by only DOT and FHWA and moved the deadline to this Friday, Dec. 19.
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.
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
Rumors of Bonner Bridge closure shot down, as negotiations continue...Nov. 25, 2014