June 15, 2015
State and federal officials reach
agreement on bridge replacement
North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT), N.C. Department of
Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Federal Highway
Administration (FHWA) have finalized a settlement agreement
with Defenders of Wildlife and the National Wildlife Refuge
Association, represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center,
allowing NCDOT to replace the aging Herbert C. Bonner Bridge over the
Oregon Inlet with a new parallel bridge.
These details were released early this afternoon:
Under the agreement, NCDOT will also consider options that would move
vulnerable portions of Highway 12 out of the southern half of Pea
Island National Wildlife Refuge and into Pamlico Sound. The
Bonner Bridge is in frequent need of repair and maintenance and the
replacement is needed for the safety of drivers and the economic
vitality of the Outer Banks.
“We appreciate the efforts of all parties to agree on a viable solution
that best serves the people and interests of North Carolina,” said
NCDOT Secretary Tony Tata. “The settlement agreement will allow NCDOT
to provide a safe and reliable bridge for thousands of residents who
rely on this lifeline to get to work, school, and healthcare and for
millions of visitors who travel to the Outer Banks every year.”
“We are pleased that NCDOT and its partner agencies will consider
additional options for N.C. 12 that will provide safe, reliable
transportation by avoiding the areas where erosion and washouts shut
down the road in its current location. This is a win-win for the
refuge and everyone who relies on N.C. 12,” said Julie Youngman, senior
attorney with SELC, who represented the conservation groups.
Under the settlement agreement, after certain tasks are complete
including ceasing work on a 2.4-mile bridge within the refuge, the
conservation groups will dismiss both federal and state Bonner
Bridge-related lawsuits. NCDOT will move forward with
construction of a new bridge parallel to the existing Bonner Bridge and
will study options for Pamlico Sound structures to address the Mirlo
Beach area and the Pea Island Inlet created by Hurricane Irene.
NCDOT will complete this entire process collaboratively with the Merger
Team, composed of state and federal resource and regulatory agencies.
During the study period, NCDOT will implement interim measures on Pea
Island to provide safe and reliable transportation through this area.
In September 2014, NCDOT suspended construction on a permanent Pea
Island Bridge as part of the settlement process.
NCDOT has scheduled a press conference for 4:30 p.m. in the parking lot just south of the Bonner Bridge.
Island Free Press will publish a more complete story on the settlement this evening.