UPDATE: NCDOT asks for fifth time extension,
no end in sight to negotiations
By IRENE NOLAN
you thought perhaps the parties involved in negotiating a settlement to
the long legal battle over replacing the aging Herbert C. Bonner Bridge
over Oregon Inlet would finally reach an agreement after the
holidays, you will probably be wrong.
The North Carolina
Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway
Administration today asked for the fifth 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 replacement.
The request for a 28-day
extension was filed on Friday, Jan. 9, exactly one week before the
fourth was set to run out. The new deadline that the defendants in the
lawsuit asked for is Friday, Feb. 13.
The court has not granted the extension yet.
there is nothing to stop the parties involved from announcing a
settlement even though they have asked for another extension, it seems
less likely that will happen.
Meanwhile, 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
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 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
In the ruling, 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.
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 and fourth
petitions for an extension were also filed by only DOT and FHWA and
moved the deadline to this Friday, Jan. 16.
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
NCDOT gets fourth time extension, no end in sight to negotiations