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SELC and friends jump on damaged highway to push again for long bridge

Thursday 19 November 2009 at 8:22 pm.

It didn’t take long for the environmental groups to weigh in on the coastal storm damage to Highway 12 at Rodanthe.

Here are the headlines from yesterday’s media release from the Southern Environmental Law Center and five other groups:

Groups Call on N.C. to Build Safer Route after Sea Reclaims Outer Banks Highway
Longer Bridge Option Less Exposed and Safer for People and Refuge

Interestingly, Island Free Press reporter and videographer Rob Alderman stopped by this morning to visit Allen Burrus, vice-chairman of the Dare County Board of Commissioners and owner of Burrus Red & White Supermarket in Hatteras village.

Alderman and Burrus were chatting about last week’s coastal storm and the serious damage it caused to Highway 12 north of Rodanthe.  High tides and strong waves basically tore out the better part of 800 feet of highway.

So Alderman asked if Burrus thought the storm and its damage would be used by environmental groups to stop the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s plan to adopt an “adaptive management” approach – a short bridge parallel to the aging Bonner Bridge and addressing the problems with overwash on areas of Highway 12 as they occur.

“I think it will feed the environmental groups to beat their chests,” Burrus replied.

And he didn’t know yet about the SELC media release.

They have indeed been beating their chests and trying to use the storm to build momentum for a return to the plan for a 17-mile bridge to bypass Pea Island and land in north Rodanthe.

That option was considered and then rejected because of its cost – not to mention safety concerns about a two-lane bridge five or so miles out on the sound on a stormy, windy day.

But the environmental groups are not willing to accept that Hatteras islanders need a safe bridge now – the current 46-year-old bridge has a sufficiency rating of 2 out of 100. They want the highway out of the refuge whether we can afford it or not and whether it’s safer or not.

Highway 12 has traversed the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge for almost a half century.

The refuge has survived.  And so have the people of Hatteras.

Traffic interruptions in storms are nothing new.  We accept them and work around them.
And we hope that once we have a new bridge, some new alternatives, such as a raised highway, can help us deal with ocean overwash on the road.

But we need the new bridge now.

Allen Burrus is hopeful that the final decision will be made soon and that construction might finally get underway after almost two decades of planning, wrangling, and hassling.

You can click here to see the video of Rob Alderman’s interview with him on the highway and the bridge.

I would also note that the sea didn’t “reclaim” the highway for long – thanks to hard-working DOT crews.

Within two days of when the road was closed, there was a four-wheel drive route around the closure. Within four days, there was one lane of traffic for all, and perhaps by Thanksgiving, the road will be restored to two lanes of asphalt.

There is little doubt that the issue of erosion on Hatteras – and Ocracoke – is complex, and. in many ways, there are not perfect solutions.

Most of us who live here, though, want a new bridge as soon as possible – and even now, the soonest is 2014.

I might add that assumes the lawsuit that these environmental groups are sure to file as soon as they can after a record of decision is made does not stop construction.

Between off-road vehicle rulemaking and the bridge replacement, I guess SELC and the rest will be part of our lives for the foreseeable future.

Below, you will find the media release and a response by the chairperson of Dare County’s Citizen’s Committee to Replace the Bonner Bridge.

Here is the complete text of the SELC media release:

Groups Call on N.C. to Build Safer Route after Sea Reclaims Outer Banks Highway
Longer Bridge Option Less Exposed and Safer for People and Refuge

CHAPEL HILL, NC—Six conservation groups today called on the North Carolina Department of Transportation to build a safer, less-exposed emergency route for Outer Banks residents and tourists that is not dependent on the section of Highway 12 in Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge which was washed out last week during the remnants of tropical storm Ida.

For several days now, photographs and news reports have shown large impassable sections of the broken and washed out highway which is also adjacent to the house filmed in “Nights in Rodanthe.” Currently, residents and tourists are expected to travel this exposed section of Highway 12 during and after storms to reach the aging Bonner Bridge, the only non-ferry route to get on or off Hatteras Island. NCDOT plans to replace the Bonner Bridge at its current location and ignore the highway’s unreliability south of the bridge. The current damage is reminiscent of previous washouts in the same section of highway, including one in 2006.

“The recent storm is Mother Nature’s comment on NCDOT’s plan to replace Bonner Bridge at its current location and ignore access problems south of the bridge,” said Julie Youngman of SELC. “The state should put people’s safety first, build the safer, less-exposed ‘long bridge’ that bypasses the most rapidly eroding section of the island, and let nature take its course in the wildlife refuge.”

Scientific models show this exposed section of Highway 12 and two other areas of the road on the refuge are extremely vulnerable to erosion, overwash, and the creation of new inlets. The beaches south of the existing bridge are among the fastest eroding beaches in North Carolina with average rates in some areas over 12 feet a year. Many of these concerns are outlined in comments filed with NC DOT on Friday, November 13, by Southern Environmental Law Center, National Wildlife Refuge Association, Environmental Defense Fund, Defenders of Wildlife, The Wilderness Society, Audubon North Carolina, and Pamlico-Tar River Foundation.

The safer, less-exposed “long bridge” replacement option would replace the most vulnerable section of road with a more sheltered route on the sound-side and behind the barrier island.  It would cost less long-term than a short bridge reliant on a failing road that must continually be rebuilt until it finally succumbs to the sea. According to NCDOT’s website, the current Bonner Bridge is expected to be in good condition for another ten years.

While the NCDOT cites a lack of funds to build the safer, more dependable long bridge route for Hatteras Island, the state recently authorized a $700 million toll bridge across the Currituck Sound to the Northern Outer Banks.

“The Mid-Currituck Bridge is a matter of convenience, providing a second bridge to a section of the Outer Banks that already has a serviceable bridge to the mainland.  In marked contrast, Hatteras Island urgently needs a dependable route to the mainland,” added Youngman.

In 2003, all state and federal agencies involved in the bridge replacement project agreed that building a long bridge to bypass the eroding beaches of the wildlife refuge was the preferred option for Hatteras Island.  Political pressure, however, forced the agencies to reconsider and return to the option that is cheaper in the short run.  If the project had gone forward at that time, the bridge would be nearing completion and open to traffic in a few months.

Response by Beth Midgett, chairperson of Dare County’s Citizen’s Committee to Replace the Bonner Bridge:

First of all, I am sure the islanders and visitors all will share with me my wish to extend my heartfelt thanks to the NCDOT crews that have worked so hard to get our access restored so that we may enjoy this Thanksgiving holiday with our family and friends"

 I agree that the government should put people’s safety first. In fact, I believe that the Government's primary responsibility is keeping its citizens safe. What I fail to understand is why SELC and other such groups are not outraged at the fact that an agency of our federal government, by its policies, has been putting Hatteras islanders’ safety at risk for several years now by preventing reasonable protective maintenance to occur.
We are suspicious that the maintenance policy appears to have changed in the years since the "long bridge" option was not chosen. Consequently, this policy of non-maintenance has victimized and now effectively trapped the citizens of Hatteras Island.
Any replacement bridge is still years away yet it seems as if our lifeline, Highway 12, is being used right now as a pawn, being purposefully left exposed in order to exploit the situation and further the agenda of those opposed to the only affordable option.


Jim Harris

Silly Derb, all the toll bridge needs from NCDOT is permission, not funding. Derb, if you want to hold the bridge up, become a piling, it would suit you.

Jim Harris (Email ) - 19-11-’09 22:52

The new bridge is fine but we will eventually need to build an elevated roadway from its base to somewhere well south and west of what is currently northern Rodanthe. Ten years from now the houses on the west side of Hwy 12 across from Serendipity will probably be in the same high tide zone…And it really sucks to keep ruining vehicles driving through that section during overwash or delaying the transit until the water is gone. We need engineering solutions, not political or emotional solutions.

CP - 19-11-’09 23:22
Hawk Hawkins

Screw ‘em.

Hawk Hawkins (Email ) - 19-11-’09 23:30
Rob Alderman

CP..I agree with you, but the engineering solutions and the funding solutions just don’t jive. Not too mention that “less exsposed” bridge would sit roughly 5 miles into the sound..I am here to tell ya that the slightest hard wind from any direction and you just lost traveling rights for most vehicles..not to mention the almost 50% increase in the power bill.

Rob Alderman - 20-11-’09 05:24
Dr Mike Berry

The concerned public needs to keep hammering away at the fact that delay of a bridge is socially irresponsible in that it thumbs it nose at public safety and gives priorities to birds over people. DOT engineers know more about bridges and roads than environmental activist lawyers who keep referring to "scientific studies" that no one has even had the opportunity to review. It’s much easier, technically efficient, and cost effective over time to repair ground level sections of washed out roadway than to rebuild even the smallest elevated section of an extraordinarily long bridge that will inevitably be damaged by storms at some time. The primary duty of government is to protect human life—environmental activism increasingly ignores that basic principle. Construction of a new short bridge must begin immediately before there is a loss of human life and destruction of the Hatteras Island economy.

Mike Berry
Chapel Hill, NC

Dr Mike Berry (Email ) - 20-11-’09 05:35
Salvo Jimmy


I’ll clarify again what Rob is referring to. (see my post in the earlier blog on the bridge) The CBBT is not used as an evacuation route because of it’s length, which is within about 0.2 mile of the “long bridge”. During the recent Nor’easter traffic on the CBBT was restricted to passenger vehicles and unloaded pickups. And no cartop carriers or towing allowed. That’s was it.

There is an engineering solution that is affordable and it’s the current proposed NCDOT approach. It builds a parallel bridge, a bridge taking off a couple miles North of the S-Curve, swinging out into the sound and back into Rodanthe in the vicinity of Island Convenience. It includes bridging of the hot spot at the North end of Pea Island to the West of the current road. The deeds they have uncovered are believed to support the building outside the current right of way although SELC has already indicated they will fight that.

That plan covers all of the areas within the 60 yr erosion line. The rest of the road is then improved when it becomes necessary, but likely 60+ yrs out.

And yes a Cat 4 / 5 could cut the island in any area, but it would likely take out some of the long bridge as well.

Salvo Jimmy (Email ) - 20-11-’09 06:52
Barbara Ackley

The section just north of Rodanthe needs to be bypassed by the planned bridge in that area right now. There is no need to wait until the short bridge is built many years in the future after all legal appeals by the Dark Side" have been exhaused. This "shorter bridge" could be done on an emergency basis with a design and build contract. Call in homeland security, as was done after Hurricane Isabelle and "git ‘er done"!

Barbara Ackley - 20-11-’09 07:10
Lisa D

I think that what Jimmy in Salvo stated is the best option. It’s funny but anything that any government agency touches is screwed up. Decisions take years and funding even longer while average people are the ones that suffer. Nothing will probably get done until something really bad happens – and I hope that isn’t the case. And they want us to let them take over health care?????

Lisa D (Email ) - 20-11-’09 08:42
Denny in Dayton

Typical list of lies and exaggerations by Derb and his rabble pack. I haven’t seen it in any media yet, but I’m sure the Fay Observer AKA "The Selc Newsletter" will run it soon. I love how they completely ignore the potential expense of maintaining a 17+ mile bridge.

If they want this long bridge so bad perhaps someone should propose paying for it out of USFW’s budget. That or we need to figure out a way to sue the Army Corp of engineers like they just succeeded in doing down in New Orleans. The situation down there of proposed improvements being blocked/delayed by environmentalists and in their case local politicians is in some ways similar to the bridge replacement. But in the end the environmentalists took none of the blame and the lawyers are picking the pockets of the American taxpayer for billions….again!

Denny in Dayton (Email ) - 20-11-’09 09:04
Cathy B.

All the land in the refuge was “GIVEN” to the Federal Government for ALL to enjoy, and it is my belief that if ALL can not enjoy it, then the families should receive the land back. To hell with the enviromentalist, I don’t kill birds, turtles or any other living thing, in the same respect I show the animal, my life is worth more!! This goes for all the beach from property as well!!

Cathy B. - 20-11-’09 09:13
Jim Boyd

Folks need to pay attention to what Denny is saying here.
He is absolutely right! The exact same scenario that played out over decades in New Orleans, delays and delays until disaster strikes, could be happening here. And when it does, incredibly, nobody will recall the delayers. We can’t let it happen here.

Jim Boyd (Email ) - 20-11-’09 09:35
Frank and Fran

Again we find environmental special interest groups that have “no” life connections to Hatteras Island trying to advocate management of access to not only the seashores off road access but also the highway system on and off our seashore. What is more disturbing is that in recent years USFW and NPS have sided with these groups. Promises of years past have been cast aside and political correctness has prevailed.
Let me try to explain why I wrote the first paragraph. I am now 66 years old and have been a part of Hatteras Island all of them and moved here permanently in 1975. Since NPS began creating the recreational seashore it was promised that the federal government would protect and maintain the dune system between the seashore beach and the interior area where road and houses were built. The very pond that now is a favorite nesting and feeding area for the plovers near Cape Point was dredged in the early 1960’s to rebuild the dunes from that area to Avon. Another dredge worked in the area of the sound where we presently see the kite boarding and windsurfing enjoyed called the “Haul Over” or “The Canadian Hole”. After one of the storms that damaged the dunes between Buxton and Avon a dredge was again used to rebuild the dunes and protect highway 12. But some where some time the Federal Government and NPS decided they would no longer fulfill this promise and any dune repairs have been done by North Carolina DOT. Village dunes have not been included in these rebuilds. Again we see NPS reneging on promises.
North Carolina’s has released news that they have found new evidence in the right of way deeds through Pea Island and NPS lands that North Carolina has the right to make right of way changes for the protection of travel on and off Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands. We must have lots of young folks in DOT now because I have always in my 66 years heard and observed that standard. Examples include: 1. The road from the visitors center on Pea Island Wildlife Refuge to south of the Refuge housing and offices near the New Inlet boat launch area. The road was at least 100 ft eastward from its present location passing to the East of the refuge housing and office. 2. The S-curve north of Rodanthe has been moved west one time and should be being moved now with acceptance from USFW so the dunes structure can be stabilized in the area. 3. The road from south of Avon to the “Haul Over” was moved west some years back. 4. The erosion area north of the motels in Buxton was moved west as well.
Along comes President Clinton and NPS begins screaming “the sky is falling, the sky is falling”, oops, that should have read the lighthouse must be moved, the lighthouse must be moved. A sound “No”, that is not the solution, but a couple more jetties and repair of the existing jetties, from locals was ignored. What do these local jackals’ know! The lighthouse was moved at a cost at least 5 times more than the repair and addition of jetties would have been. But who cares, it is federal tax dollars. Why do I mention this? Since they failed to rebuild and add to the jetties we have lost the use of the Coastguard base due to erosion and also its new multimillion dollar housing that lost its septic system due to beach erosion. Also the whole beachfront structure of Buxton has been compromised and exposed to erosion that may never be reversed. NPS is again showing its inability to manage this seashore for its people that live here and visit the seashore.
We have begun to see more failures of the federal government to protect those that visit the islands. Hurricane Isabelle saw NPS biologists trying to stop dredging to plug the inlet between Frisco and Hatteras. Now we see Audubon’s resident lawyer in concert with USFW questioning the west bypass around the eroded area north of Rodanthe. When and where will our federal government begin using common sense to abate this attack on our islands heritage, people and its visitors? It’s time that Washington clean house on the leaders of the departments that continue to allow high paid lawyers who love to create havoc on grassroots people all over the United States only to line their wallets with tax payers money.

Frank and Fran (Email ) - 20-11-’09 22:39
John Alley

Any way you slice it the latest spin from SELC is just downright funny.

Now their agenda is public safety and free access to Hatteras Island?

Oh please, is there any situation that they won’t use to further their righteous cause?

So let’s build a bridge like the CBBT, which is not designated a hurricane evacuation route by Virginia. The only comparable that exists for such a structure on the east coast.

Is there anybody out there that has given some thought to why the schools on Hatteras Island are nicknamed The Hurricanes?

The CBBT has a costly infrastructure that protects the public from a hostile environment as they make a long journey over open water. There are different access levels depending on the weather conditions. It’s not the tunnels that restrict the traffic, but the exposed roadway. The CHEC has reported that the long bridge plan had the possible effect of a 50% increase in power bills for the residents and non-residents of the island, unless the plan called for some sort of relief from the cost of wiring the long bridge.

I would ask the SELC to provide a set of weather/vehicle restrictions that they would apply to the long bridge, in the interest of their fight for the public safety of the residents and visitors. At what wind speed would vehicles with large surface area be restricted?

Would the supply of goods to the island have been any different during the storm with the long bridge? It all depends on what public safety rules were in place. The CBBT was under category 3 and 4 restrictions during the storm. To date I have never seen any list of restrictions proposed for the long Bridge.

Until we have information on the public safety restrictions that would come with the ‘long bridge’, how can we assess which would be best for public safety?

In the mean time Hatteras Island keeps on keeping on, despite all the help we are getting to safe guard our access to the seashore.

John Alley - 22-11-’09 00:13
Denny in Dayton

For those who aren’t familiar with the specifics on New Orleans that parallel the bridge delay I’ll expand my explanation.

Hurricane Betsy hit N.O. in the late 60’s causing extensive flooding. The flooding was not due to the storm surge coming ashore, but because it drove water through the inlets back into brackish shallow waters of Lake Pontchartrain which lies to the north, flooding the city from the north. This is similar to the soundside flooding Hatteras always experiences.

In the 70’s the Army Corp of Engineers proposed fixing this by building (I think 4) large gates that would be closed only when a large storm surge threatened and would keep the surge out of Lake Pontchartrain. As usual environmentalists sued and won claiming the gates would harm shell fish!!! The gates were never built.

When Katrina hit in 95 and the city flooded, the environmental groups claimed, and the media has carried their version, that it was due to the "loss of wetlands". A look at the map shows the wetlands they are referring to lie to the south and southwest of the city. The storm surge did not penetrate these and cause the flooding. The 30 foot surge once again backed up the waters of Lake Pontchartrain to a height the levies could not hold back and the city flooded. Notably the higher water in the lake allowed waves to take out the "long safe" I-10 bridge! And after the storm the same enviros whined about contaminated water being pumped out of the city into the lake HARMING SHELLFISH! You can’t win with these jerks.

If the gates had been built none of this would have happened. If the dept of Justice would now sue the enviro groups and bankrupt them and some of the individuals running them we would probably see other groups be much slower in running to court if they realized they might actually be held accountable for what they cause.

Denny in Dayton (Email ) - 22-11-’09 11:18

I need to take blood pressure meds everytime I read a SELC press release on anything to do with Hatteras Island.

Alexy (Email ) - 24-11-’09 14:12

Are the residents and economy on Hatteras island worth 1 BILLION dollars? (Long bridge cost)Sorry but I doubt it. Most of the world runs toll ferry service to outer islands. Whats wrong with that? Plus ferry docks can move as the island moves. Its a migrating island people-just move with it. If your dumb enough to buy ocean front have deep pockets and plan on it being gone one day, probably in your lifetime.

James (Email ) - 24-11-’09 19:54
Cathy Almon

It is really amazing at how SELC and the environmental groups always “come to the rescue” of the poor people on Hatteras Island. I mean, they are helping us refrain from “killing turtles and birds” while at the same time telling us what the best access options are! And to think, they are able to do this without ever having lived on the island or even taken the time to study the “environmental history” of the island. I have already proposed the ultimate solution to the bride problem on a different site, but I feel it needs repeating here. If SLC really wants to see the long bridge built, then they need to get together with all of their environmentalist friends and empty their coffers into the pot and pay for it to be built. That way, “safe access” is available, the birds, turtles, and plant life are not harmed, and the citizens of Hatteras Island are not hit with an outrages increase in their utility bills! It would certainly be a better use of their time and money than all of the law suits tey keep paying for. Hey SELC, quit spewing garbage and start actually doing something positive for a change. Who knows, you might find you like it!

Cathy Almon - 25-11-’09 15:26
Denny in Dayton

Said James:
“Sorry but I doubt it. Most of the world runs toll ferry service to outer islands. Whats wrong with that?”

Well for starters I think you are grossly underestimating the cost of operating a ferry system over the 50 year life expectancy of a bridge. The docks are probably the cheapest part, you have the vessels themselves (several fleets over time), crews and fuel costs (which will likely grow). Also the service would have to make the long run from Rodanthe to Stumpy point. That’s a very narrow channel, who’s going to pay to have it dredged wider and then maintained for 50 years at that width? The NC ferry service has estimated that it can only move about 1200 cars a day on that route in good weather, that’s 1/8th of the daily summer traffic to the island. Do you see that as a problem?

You also say “the rest of the world”, I say who cares. That “rest of the world” is mostly “third world” and they make ferry travel the most dangerous mode of transit in the world.

“Ferries used throughout much of the developing world are among the deadliest form of public transportation, as evidenced by the capsized ship in the Philippines last month in which nearly 800 people are feared dead.”


That’s the lead you want to follow? There used to be ferry service to the island instead of a bridge, it was cheaper to build a bridge. Why else do you think the Bonner was built? Why isn’t there a bridge to Ocracoke? Because it would require a very LONG bridge that would be very expense and therefore not practical.

There’s a theme here. Those of us who want to do whats safest and most practical and those who want to force the most impractical, destroying the island economy so they can turn it into a wildlife refuge. You either haven’t thought it through, or you sound like you are with the later.

Denny in Dayton (Email ) - 26-11-’09 11:04

Good points- all taken. Sorry my entire thoughts didnt make it through onto the post.My invisioned ferry system could not be free. It would have to be a toll system much like the new bridge probably will be. Thats the only way to keep it funding itsself for neccessary expeditures. And the ferry system would have to dwarf what the DOT currently operates and then you are correct-it would be a monumental task moving peak season traffic. I would hope we could run a ferry system better than the "developing world". I didnt really have them in mind when I made that blanket statement. My bad. I’m not against a bridge. Maybe it would be better and safer in the long run. I can’t say cheaper because whatever is done will be enormously expensive. I just think in ways that would be easier to change as the island changes because that is the only certain. The island is and will continue to keep on moving.

James (Email ) - 27-11-’09 23:44

A toll bridge? I am sure anyone who lives here would love to add that to the cost of driving on or off the island.

Alexy (Email ) - 27-12-’09 23:15
Frank and Fran's

No we would not want a toll and to add to that I brlieve that it is NC state law that the primary road into and out of a community cannot have a toll. That is one of the reasons the ferry to Ocracoke has no charge. (Please correct me if I am wrong) The ferries to Cedar Island and Swan Quarter are secondary avenues to get to Ocracoke, therfore, a fee can be charged. Same goes for the bridge being developed in Currituck to their Outer Banks, you can take hwy. 12 with no toll.

Frank and Fran's (Email ) - 28-12-’09 06:47

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