The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Draft Compatibility Determination on the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s request for a temporary easement permit for construction of a new, permanent bridge at Pea Island Inlet is open for public comment and review until May 3.
Comments are being sought on the benefits of and impacts from issuing a permit granting temporary construction easements in the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge.
NCDOT plans to replace the temporary bridge over Pea Island Inlet, which was cut by Hurricane Irene in 2011, with a permanent bridge as part of the replacement of the Bonner Bridge Project. The replacement of the temporary bridge is Phase IIa of building a new bridge and a phased approach to hotspots on Highway 12 on Hatteras Island.
As currently planned, the new bridge would be approximately 2.1 miles long and would affect approximately 3.84 acres of refuge land outside of the existing right-of-way, requiring temporary construction easements.
Upon completion of construction, the areas covered by temporary easements would be fully restored by NCDOT. Once the bridge is completed, two parking lots currently on the refuge would be removed.
The first one on the east side of the existing highway would be removed and the area restored to upland grasslands. The second parking lot — New Inlet parking area –provides primitive access for small boats, canoes, and kayaks. As currently planned, this parking and access would also be eliminated due to the elevated bridge structure through the area. NCDOT is exploring other possibilities to provide public access in the vicinity.
Federal wildlife refuges are required by law to determine the compatibility of any proposed non-wildlife dependent use with the mission of the national wildlife refuge system and the purpose for which a particular refuge was established.
Mike Bryant, Pea Island refuge manager, said that after reviewing the information, he found the bridge replacement right-of-way modification is compatible with “the standards for a minor modification and can be found to be compatible with the mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System and the purpose for establishing Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge.”
The determination is conditional upon full compliance with several stipulations necessary to ensure compatibility and the terms and conditions in a new right-of-way permit.
The stipulations include returning the temporary easement areas to a condition as good or better than before construction, monitoring and modeling in the refuge under the NCDOT Transportation Management Plan, and implementation by DOT of a refuge habitat and Highway 12 vulnerability forecasting study in consultation with USFWS.
“The mission of Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge is to protect migratory birds and other native wildlife and their breeding grounds and habitat for the benefit of the American people,” stated Bryant in a press release. He added, “We want the community to be informed about the work being proposed and to have an opportunity to weigh in on the pros and cons of that work.”
If you wish to review the short, seven page Draft Compatibility Determination, copies are available at the refuge administrative office at 100 Conservation Way, Manteo, N.C., on the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge web site at http://www.fws.gov/peaisland, and at the Dare County public libraries.
Written comments may be sent to: Refuge Manager, Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, P.O. Box 1969, Manteo, N.C. 27954 or emailed to [email protected]
All comments must be submitted no later than close of business at 4 p.m. on Friday, May 3. If you need additional information, please contact refuge biologist Dennis Stewart at 252- 473-1131, ext. 231.