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Law Center Files Suit Over NCDOT Emails

Reprinted from The Outer Banks Voice.

The Southern Environmental Law Center has filed a suit against the state transportation secretary, seeking access to emails related to the proposed mid-Currituck bridge from Malcolm Fearing, the local member of the state Board of Transportation.

Malcolm Fearing and Nick Tennyson speak during a recent update on Bonner Bridge construction. Photo: Michael Beswick

Malcolm Fearing and Nick Tennyson speak during a recent update on Bonner Bridge construction. Photo: Michael Beswick

The group contends that the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s failure to provide access to the emails, which may contain information about developments with the 7-mile-long-span proposed between the mainland and Corolla, hampers it “from playing a fully informed role in this federally required regulatory process.”

“The North Carolina Public Records Act provides that government records are the ‘property of the people’”, said law center attorney Kym Hunter.

The legal action filed Tuesday in Wake County Superior Court against Transportation Secretary Nick Tennyson follows a public information request filed July 28 by the group that appears to have not been acted on by attorneys for the NCDOT as of mid-October.

In the suit, the law center included email correspondence with Sophia Spencer, public records manager for the state’s Office of the General Counsel for Transportation.

Spencer said requests for the documents were being handled in the order in which they were being received. But Hunter countered that that conflicted with an explanation given in January 2015 and the department was in violation of state statutes.

The SELC is asking for an immediate hearing, that the requested records be turned over in compliance with state law and that the state assume all legal fees associated with the suit.

“It is essential that NCDOT comply with its legal responsibility and make Mr. Fearing’s records available so that the public can gain a better understanding of the political dealings involved in this expensive bridge project which will drain Division 1 of all its transportation funds for the next decade,” Hunter added.

A NCDOT spokesperson said Wednesday the department does not comment on pending litigation.

The SELC announced last month it had obtained new data from the state Department of Transportation that showed forecast traffic projections are down by half of those in a previous study.

Gov. Pat McCrory announced one year ago that construction would start on the bridge sometime in 2017, despite the project scoring low under the state’s new transportation funding priority process.

The state Board of Transportation approved in January accelerating the construction timeline from fiscal 2019 to 2017 at a cost of at least $410 million.

The state would kick in about $173 million for initial planning, design work and rights-of-way acquisition, and the rest would come from the sale of bonds that would be paid back using tolls.

The law center claimed in October that new estimates place the expected cost of the bridge at up to $678 million, meaning that over $500 million may need to be covered by drivers paying tolls.

The lawsuit also includes public information requests for emails related to the I-77 Lake Norman Causeway project north of Charlotte, and the extension of the Triangle Expressway around Raleigh.

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This story is provided courtesy of the Outer Banks Voice, a digital newspaper covering the Outer Banks. Coastal Review Online is partnering with the Voice to provide readers with more environmental and lifestyle stories of interest about our coast. You can read other stories about the Outer Banks here.

About the Author

Sam Walker

Sam Walker is the news director of Max Radio of the Carolinas and a staff writer for the "Outer Banks Voice."