June 22, 2016
Not all are happy with DOT's chosen alternative for north Rodanthe
By CATHERINE KOZAK
The proposed bridge project in Rodanthe is a good example of the difficulty that government has trying to make everyone happy.
Holding signs and chanting “Save our Sounds,” a small group of northern
Rodanthe property owners gathered in front of the Rodanthe-Waves-Salvo
Community Building on Tuesday evening to protest the project that they
say will ruin kiteboarding off their Pamlico Sound beach and hurt
property values, livelihoods and lifestyles in their neighborhood.
Inside, officials with the state Department of Transportation were
conducting the second of three public hearings on the Outer Banks to
consider the revised environmental assessment on the bridge. The
project proposes a long-term solution to keeping the road open through
Mirlo Beach, an area subject to increasingly frequent overwash and road
And many long-time residents seem relieved that something is finally
going to be done to keep traffic flowing on Highway 12, the only
thoroughfare on Hatteras Island.
“Most of the folks have been interested, but not unhappy,” Brian
Yamamoto, NCDOT project development engineer, summing up the feedback
he had heard at the hearing., which was attended by more than 90
people. Other hearings were held in Ocracoke and Manteo.
The preferred alternative is a 2.4-mile “jug handle” bridge between the
south end of Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge and the north end of
But in order to do that, Midgett’s campground, three businesses, and
two homes would have to be removed, and other properties, while not
having to be moved, would suddenly have an intrusive strip of asphalt
as their neighbor.
In that light, the frustration expressed by protesters is
understandable, said Malcolm Fearing, a Manteo native who represents
DOT’s Division 1 on the state Board of Transportation.
“I get it,” Fearing said, in between chats with residents and local
officials at the meeting. “That’s the tough thing about transportation
projects – they affect people. This is one of those things. It’s a
But others view the Rodanthe bridge as necessity, a compromise borne
out of years of grappling with how to keep one of the most vulnerable
sections of road on the Outer Banks passable and safe for residents and
millions of tourists who visit the island every year.
“There’s no easy answer,” said Scott Caldwell, who along with his wife
Martha Midgett Caldwell, owns about 20 acres and numerous businesses in
Rodanthe. “In order to survive down here as a business owner, you have
to have that road open. I just feel like what they’re talking about,
this is the best scenario – and I stand to lose the most from this.”
An earlier alternative that DOT had considered would have included exit
ramps that would have “wiped out” Island Convenience, the family’s very
busy store on the north end of Rodanthe, Caldwell said. The current
proposal would eliminate the 23-site Midgett Campground, an 8-year-old
business that is highly productive, he said. It would also take the
family’s two residential structures, a building that houses four
businesses – a food pantry, a bake shop, thrift store and an arcade –
and just north of that, the Whaley Jack Burger Shack.
“Martha’s parents worked their tails off to get that property,” he said.
Martha Caldwell’s father was the late Mac Midgett, a businessman and
county commissioner who had been one of the most distinctive characters
in Dare County during his lifetime.
Caldwell said he has known the DOT plan has been in the works since
Hurricane Irene in 2011. But considering the options, he said that he
knows also that there’s no way to stop it. He plans to hire an attorney
to assist in negotiations with DOT.
“If I can get just compensation, I’m good with it,” Caldwell said. “We
have been through all this different stuff and we’re at the edge of
getting it done. It’s hard to please everybody, but you know long-term,
we’ve got to have this bridge.
“If that road is not done,” he said, “we’re done.”
The proposed bridge bypasses a hot-spot just north of Rodanthe –
called “S-turns” by surfers and “S-curves” by coastal engineers --
renowned for great waves and a huge annual erosion rate, respectively.
When Hurricane Irene struck the Outer Banks in August 2011, a section
of Highway 12 between S-curves and Mirlo Beach was breached, as well as
a section of road a little further north in Pea Island.
Over the last 15 or so years, various fixes at Mirlo were discussed and
studied, including beach nourishment and different versions of
bridging. Along the way, the project was grouped in with a lawsuit
challenging the Bonner Bridge replacement project, leaving the
long-term solution for both breaches tangled in with the legal fate of
the bridge project.
The lawsuit was finally settled, and the Bonner project has begun. An
emergency beach nourishment project was done in 2014 at S-curves to
protect the road while road planners worked on the Rodanthe solution.
An interim concrete bridge is currently being constructed at the Pea
Brian Yamamoto, NCDOT project development engineer, said that the
preferred Rodanthe alternative was decided officially a few months ago.
But he said an early concept emerged about 15 months ago, after
officials with the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries
expressed concerns about impacts on submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV)
with an alternative that curved further west into the sound. In
the revised plan, the bridge now comes in closer to land but impacts
The preferred alternative in 2014, a bridge within the existing
easement of Highway 12, was dropped because of its exposure to the
If the project, estimated to cost about $200 million, moves forward as
planned, Yamamoto said, it can be awarded to a contractor as early as
this fall. After gearing up for about another year, it would take an
additional three years to complete.
Warren Martin, who owns property off Corbina Drive, said he and a group
of about 20 neighbors in northern Rodanthe prefer another alternative
such as a causeway.
“We realize that there’s a need to have a safe corridor, “ Martin said.
The opponents explain their late-to-the-party objections as being
blind-sided by the latest change in the plan that brings the bridge
much closer to the shoreline.
“What upsets us is it seems like a lot of this stuff was done from
behind closed doors,” said Guy Finn, another northern Rodanthe property
Rick Shaftan, who recently created a video against the proposal, favors
moving the road away from the shoreline and bridging at Mirlo Beach.
“This is ridiculous,” he said, pointing towards the wall, where a map
of the proposed plan showed the bridge curving right into the area
around Corbina Road.
“This is a show,” he said about the hearing.
Mark Haines, who owns property on Pappy Lane and operates a soundfront
kiteboarding business, said that the DOT needs to re-consider the
severe impacts to residents and businesses.
He said he favors having the bridge further out in the sound, where it
would not hinder kiteboarding as much, or better still, have the
roadway come in north of Rodanthe or move the roadway to the
west. Haines said that no kiteboarder is going to want to rent
one of his houses while all the work is being done. And the bridge
itself would hurt his business overall because its structure alters the
wind quality and creates an obstructive hazard to the boarders.
“I get a pit in my stomach here just listening to these guys,” Haines
said. “They say it’s a public hearing, but they’ve already decided what
they’re going to do.”
In responding to a question about a possible lawsuit, Haines said the opponents “are leaving all options on the table.”
“At the end of the day, we just want to feel part of the decision,” he said.
When asked whether the preferred alternative could be changed at this
stage of the process, Yamamoto, with DOT, said “it’s possible.
But with such a long history with working with the public and the
agencies, we’re almost out of different things to try. And we have
tried a lot of different things.”
Altering the plan would be “difficult,” he said, requiring each
stakeholder agency to be contacted again. If the option ended up being
changed, most likely DOT would have to do another supplemental
document, which would require more public meetings and more public
comments to consider – probably taking a couple of years to complete.
Even if it was an option DOT had already looked at, he said, there
would still be the necessity of going back to consult with all the
agencies, although the supplemental document would not have to be done.
PUBLIC COMMENT AND ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
Comments will be accepted by NCDOT through Friday, July 15.
For additional information, call the project's toll-free number
1-866-803-0529 or contact Drew Joyner, NCDOT human environment section
at 1598 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-1598, by phone at
919-707-6077, or by email at [email protected].