Last week, WRAL-TV, a Raleigh CBS station, weighed in on the contentious debate about replacing the Bonner Bridge, Hatteras Island?s only land link with the mainland, with a documentary entitled, ?Bridge over Troubled Water.?
The documentary is very nicely photographed and written and focuses on three Hatteras islanders who rely on Highway 12 and the bridge to carry them across Oregon Inlet to connect them to the rest of the world.
The story of these folks is the untold story of the long-overdue replacement of the decrepit bridge, which is being held together with ?Band-Aids? and is mired in lawsuits about how it will proceed ? according to the North Carolina Department of Transportation?s plan or the wishes of outside environmental groups that have sued to stop that plan.
Beth Midgett, chairwoman of the Dare County Citizens Committee to Replace the Bonner Bridge and co-founder of the Bridge Moms Facebook group, says she was excited by the first 12 minutes of the documentary.
Finally, she thought the stories of ordinary folks whose lives, livelihoods, and health and safety are being threatened and being held hostage will be told.
However, after we meet these three islanders, the documentary reverts to interviewing Derb Carter of the Southern Environmental Law Center, which represents Defenders of Wildlife and the National Wildlife Refuge Association in their lawsuit to stop the DOT?s plan.
And Carter starts repeating the untruths and half truths that have been the hallmark of the SELC argument, which was rejected by a U.S. District Court judge last September.
The documentary?s producer and writer, Clay Johnson, states as fact Carter?s assertion that federal and state agencies agreed to a 17-mile bridge to bypass the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge in 2003 and that Dare County politicians wanted the shorter, cheaper bridge.
In fact, as DOT?s recently retired chief operating officer, Jim Trogdon, wrote in a guest column last December in The Island Free Press, the department agreed to study the long bridge in detail at that time.
NCDOT, he writes, never reached a Record of Decision on the long bridge, nor did it even select the long bridge as the preferred alternative.
Just didn?t happen, but Carter keeps repeating the misleading information and news outlets keep reporting it without much of a challenge.
Trogdon also notes that the DOT agreed to study the long bridge based on SELC?s assertion that Highway 12 improvements in the existing right-of-way could not eligible for permits and would not receive a compatibility determination from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
A former Department of Interior Secretary and assistant secretary both rejected that argument.
It?s true that Dare County officials wanted the shorter bridge when it became apparent that access to the very popular Pea Island refuge might not be guaranteed if the long bridge were built. However, both sides were playing politics in this debate.
And Beth Midgett, in a Bridge Mom?s rebuttal to the documentary, quotes from the decision against SELC by federal District Court Judge Louise Flanagan:
?While there is some evidence that politicians participated in the NEPA process and voiced their concerns as to building the long bridge because of its potential to limit means of public access,? she wrote, ?this is the type of participation and commentary that NEPA processes seek to extract?.
On the assertion that Carter makes that DOT was purposefully inflating the cost for building the long bridge at $1.1 billion after having made much lower estimates, the documentary does interview DOT Secretary Tony Tata, who notes that the department got follow-up estimates from three independent consulting firms. They all came in at about the same amount, $1.1 billion.
The WRAL documentary is very good in that it shows what life is like for everyday Hatteras islanders when the bridge or the highway is closed.
Its tries to be fair in that the producer/writer gives both sides of the argument, but it just does not move the debate forward.
How about some others begin challenging SELC?s assertions of fact?
I guess we can hope that this is what the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals does when it hears oral arguments on SELC?s appeal of Judge Flanagan?s thoughtful decision.
The oral arguments were requested by SELC and will be heard by a three-judge panel of the appeals court on Tuesday, May 13, at 9:30 a.m. at the federal courthouse in Richmond, Va.
We can at least hope the judges see the SELC argument for what it is ? without merit.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Click here to read a Bridge Moms rebuttal of Derb Carter?s assertions about the Bonner Bridge in the WRAL documentary, ?Bridge Over Troubled Water.?