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Lawsuit: Bridge Plan Result of ‘Illegal’ Deal

The North Carolina Department of Transportation’s plan is to elevate this portion of N.C. 12 onto a 2.4-mile bridge – known as a “jug handle” – that extends from the southern end of the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge over the Pamlico Sound into Rodanthe. Photo: North Carolina Department of Transportation

RODANTHE — A group of property owners here have filed a lawsuit against state and federal transportation agencies contending the plan for the proposed 2.4-mile, “jug-handle” bridge over Pamlico Sound was illegally approved.

The bridge would connect the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge and Rodanthe on Hatteras Island. A group called Save our Sound OBX Inc. and six individual plaintiffs filed the suit Thursday against the North Carolina Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration. The plaintiffs are requesting that the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina declare the action unlawful and ask that the agencies conduct further studies on the estimated $189 million project.

Officials approved the design, a C-shaped, over-water bypass of Mirlo Beach, in December 2016. The design resulted from a settlement of a lawsuit brought in 2011 by environmental groups against the state over the replacement of the Bonner Bridge over Oregon Inlet. Conservationists, in that lawsuit, contended that fixing flood-prone N.C. 12 should have been part of environmental studies for the Bonner replacement. Instead, the state opted to proceed with the parallel span and deal with N.C. 12 south of it later.

In the latest lawsuit, Save our Sound OBX and the other plaintiffs state that the agencies illegally decided to approve the so-called “jug-handle” bridge in “a backroom deal” with the Southern Environmental Law Center, instead of using objective environmental studies as the law requires. The plaintiffs say that the agencies settled the law center’s lawsuit against the proposed Bonner Bridge by selecting the “jug-handle” design instead of seriously considering other alternatives.

The plaintiffs also accuse the agencies of using outdated erosion projections.

Derb Carter

“We’ve reviewed the complaint and think it has no merit,” Derb Carter, director of Southern Environmental Law Center’s Chapel Hill office, said Friday.

Carter said the law center was in talks with the organizations it had represented in the previous lawsuit, “to decide if we need to become involved.”

Carter also noted that the relief requested by the plaintiffs, specifically as related to approvals based on a 2008 environmental study for the Bonner Bridge, would also affect that project.

“Any modifications or approvals will halt construction of the Bonner Bridge,” Carter said.

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The story was compiled by staff members of Coastal Review Online.