Residents sound off on Basnight Bridge option
There was another skirmish over the new Oregon Inlet bridge last week as a group of Hatteras Island residents — speaking remotely from the Fessenden Center Annex in Buxton during the Dare Commissioners’ Feb. 19 meeting — registered their displeasure with the effort to name it after former State Sen. Marc Basnight.
A repeated theme during that public comment period was that, in pushing for the Basnight naming option, the commissioners were ignoring the will of Hatteras residents who favor keeping the current Bonner Bridge name.
“There is a disconnect between Hatteras and the rest of the county,” declared Rick Shaftan. Hatteras residents “are treated like the poor stepchildren,” asserted Ann Vroman, adding that she considers it “a travesty that we are being ignored.”
The issue has opened a divide between Hatteras and county officials. On Feb. 8, Hatteras residents launched a Keep it Bonner Facebook page as part of a lobbying effort to keep the Bonner name. Dare Commissioner Danny Couch, who represents Hatteras and voted against the Basnight option, has described that backlash as a “fireball.”
And, while the speakers from the Fessenden Center made their views clear, a North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) spokesperson said that opposition may not make a difference in the Board of Transportation’s final decision on naming the bridge, which will occur on March 7. NCDOT officially opened the new bridge to traffic on Feb. 25.
Earlier this month, the Board of Transportation’s Bridge and Ferry Naming Committee recommended that the full board approve the Basnight designation. That followed on the heels of a 3-2 vote by the Dare Board of Commissioners in favor of that designation. While that vote fell short of the traditional standard of requiring a unanimous vote to move the naming matter forward, the commissioners’ recommendation was sent on to the state.
Noting that Naming Committee members were “aware that some people wanted it to be named Bonner,” NCDOT Communications Director Nicole Meister told the Sentinel that “the new bridge is considered a new bridge. It does not have a name. It’s not in the same footprint as the existing Bonner Bridge. And, given that that was the resolution, the committee recommended honoring the wishes of the county [in] naming the bridge in honor of Marc Basnight.”
Meister added that the 1,000 foot fishing pier that will remain from the original bridge will retain the Bonner name. And, stating that she can’t say how “each individual member [of the Transportation Board] will end up voting,” Meister stressed that, “We really rely heavily on the local government recommendation.”
The Sentinel was able to reach one Transportation Board member for comment, Gus Tulloss, who indicated that he was unaware of the local controversy over the proposed name change. “I haven’t heard anything about this,” he said. “Is this something recent?” He added that, “Marc has certainly done so much for that area and the committee felt like he was very deserving.”
While expressing their opposition to the Dare Commissioners’ decision to back the Basnight name during the Feb. 19 board meeting, several speakers at the Fessenden Center did offer some kudos to the board.
Stating that the new bridge is a “replacement bridge” and so should retain its present name, Heather McDaniel agreed that Hatteras residents “are very thankful to have that bridge…it’s been a long time coming. And we thank you for the bridge.”
But others challenged the board for relying on an online survey on the county website — one that showed the Basnight option only modestly ahead of the Bonner designation — as the reason for its decision.
Linda Browning challenged the “sincerity” of the board in seeking to gauge opinion on the bridge name, asserting that the county’s tally of 309 “votes” for Basnight represented “just one percent of county residents,” while social media polls received far larger participant numbers and indicated “support by a huge majority…for keeping the Bonner name.”
Keep It Bonner spokesman Jayson Collier challenged Dare Commissioners Chairman Bob Woodard to seize “a unique opportunity to build a lot of good will with people on this island and find a way to get it right from this point forward” by rescinding the board’s request for the name change.
Woodard responded to the criticism. Regarding charges of “not listening to your voice…and treating you like a stepchild,” he noted the multiple “town hall meetings” held on Hatteras Island since he has become board chair and his suggestion that the board install the interactive video link technology “so that you folks could sit in a room like you’re doing this evening and voice your opinion.”
Reviewing the board’s vote at its last meeting “based on the results” of its poll and its submission of “those findings to NCDOT,” Woodard said, “It is now up to NCDOT to take action one way or the other.”
But for his part, Collier told the Sentinel that, if he doesn’t hear back from the Transportation Board this week “indicating that they plan to remove this from the upcoming March 7 agenda,” then the Keep it Bonner group will “move forward with a petition.”