Groups call on N.C. to build safer route after sea reclaims outer banks highway

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Longer bridge option less exposed and safer for people and refuge

(11/18/2009) -

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, senior attorney, Southern Environmental Law Center. “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.

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Note to Editors:
Photos are available for media use with appropriate photo credit to the photographer. Contact ksullivan@selcnc.org or iphillips@audubon.org.

About Defenders of Wildlife
Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With more than 1 million members, supporters and subscribers, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come.  www.defenders.org  

About Environmental Defense Fund
A leading national nonprofit organization, Environmental Defense Fund represents more than 700,000 members.  Since 1967, Environmental Defense Fund has linked science, economics, law and innovative private-sector partnerships to create breakthrough solutions to the most serious environmental problems.  For more information, visit  www.edf.org.  

About National Audubon Society
The National Audubon Society has more than one million members and supporters, offices in 23 states, and a presence in all 50 states through more than 450 certified chapters, nature centers, sanctuaries, and education and science programs.  Locally, Audubon maintains a North Carolina state office which works on behalf of Audubon’s more than 10,000 members and supporters in the state.  Audubon’s mission is to conserve and restore natural ecosystems, focusing on birds, other wildlife, and their habitats for the benefit of humanity and the earth’s biological diversity.  It carries out that mission nationally through a variety of activities including education, habitat conservation and public policy advocacy.  
www.ncaudubon.org

About National Wildlife Refuge Association
The mission of the National Wildlife Refuge Association is to conserve America¹s wildlife heritage for future generations through strategic programs that protect, enhance, and expand the National Wildlife Refuge System and the landscapes beyond its boundaries that secure its ecological integrity.

About Pamlico-Tar River Foundation
The Pamlico-Tar River Foundation, founded in 1981, is a grassroots environmental organization representing greater than 2000 members and a licensed member of Waterkeeper Alliance, Inc. Our mission is to enhance and protect the Pamlico-Tar River watershed through education, advocacy, and research.

About Southern Environmental Law Center
The Southern Environmental Law Center is the only regional nonprofit using the power of the law to protect the health and environment of the Southeast (Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama). Founded in 1986, SELC's team of 40 legal experts represent more than 100 partner groups on issues of climate change and energy, air and water quality, forests, the coast and wetlands, transportation, and land use.
WEB: www.SouthernEnvironment.org
FACEBOOK: http://www.fanofselc.org
TWITTER: http://www.twitter.com/selc_org

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Contact(s):

Cat Lazaroff, Defenders of Wildlife, 202-772-3270
Ida Phillips, Audubon North Carolina, 919-929-3899
Sam Pearsall, Environmental Defense Fund, 919-881-2938
Desiree Sorenson-Groves, National Wildlife Refuge Association, 202-292-3961
Kathleen Sullivan, Southern Environmental Law Center, 919-967-1450

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