Environmentalists and North Carolina Department of Transportation officials may be headed toward compromise rather than confrontation in the dispute over a new bridge to serve the fragile Outer Banks barrier island chain, according to a report in the Outer Banks Voice (see "Compromise in the works to get Bonner replacement moving," by Rob Morris).
"The North Carolina Department of Transportation and the Southern Environmental Law Center are working toward a compromise that would allow work to begin on the stalled project to replace the aging Bonner Bridge over Oregon Inlet," the paper reports. "A joint statement Monday from the NCDOT and the law center was short on details, but indicated that the agreement calls for moving ahead with a new bridge parallel to the 50 year-old-span in exchange for a different long-term solution to storm-battered N.C. 12."
The statement posted on the NCDOT website says, "Following a complex ruling issued by the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, both sides determined that it was best to move forward with confidential discussions to resolve the bridge dispute. NCDOT and the Federal Highway Administration decided to temporarily suspend work on the permanent Pea Island Bridge construction until those talks and a detailed review of the recent court ruling are complete." (See "NCDOT and Conservation Groups Represented by SELC Discussing Possible Bonner Bridge Solutions.")
The August court decision gave both sides something to think about, as the Virginian-Pilot reported on August 7 (see "N.C.'s plan for Bonner Bridge replacement rejected," by Jeff Hampton). In remanding the case back to U.S. District Court Judge Louise Flanagan, the appeals court "unanimously rejected North Carolina's plan to build a new Bonner Bridge next to the old one and at the same time accepted the state's environmental study," the paper reported. "The appeals panel said the state must select an option that causes the least harm to the [Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge]. It is murky to both sides exactly what that means."
Long term, the Outer Banks' future is uncertain. Short term, the water continues to lap at the island system's slender highway lifeline on a routine basis. Emergency efforts to add sand to the beach separating the road from the ocean wrapped up this week, the Virginian-Pilot reported (see "Sand placement near N.C. 12 on Hatteras complete"). "Crews dredged and then placed about 1.7 million cubic yards of sand in the area known as the 'S-Curves,' according to a news release from the North Carolina Department of Transportation," the paper reported.
But also this week, the ocean provided a reminder of the road's temporary character as stormy conditions at sea pushed waves onto the pavement, according to another Virginian-Pilot story (see "Ocean floods over N.C. 12 near Rodanthe," by Jeff Hampton). "Hurricane Edouard far off the coast drove the surf inland at high tide just south of the new inlet in Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge north of Rodanthe," the paper reported. "Vehicles slowed to pass through several inches of water on the road north of a temporary bridge over the inlet. State crews were on scene to monitor the situation and clear debris, said Jennifer Garifo, spokeswoman for the North Carolina Department of Transportation. Flooding could persist at high tides, she said."