Nonprofit Fights Approval of New Outer Banks Bridge

(CN) – A North Carolina nonprofit sued the Federal Highway Administration and state Department of Transportation claiming they approved construction of a bridge in the state’s Outer Banks region without conducting a proper environmental review.

In a complaint filed in the federal court in Raleigh, North Carolina on Feb. 2, plaintiff Save Our Sound OBX acknowledges that the regulators’ approval of the so-called “jug-handle bridge” grew out of settlement between the agencies and a conservation group that promised to drop a lawsuit against them if they agreed the bridge would not go through the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge.

Save Our Sound and six local residents who are also plaintiffs in the litigation contend the regulators’ approval of the current configuration of the bridge violated the National Environmental Policy Act because they failed to take the required hard look at environmental impacts and reasonable alternatives.

And while they are suing the agencies, the plaintiffs place a good amount of the blame for this on nonparty Southern Environmental Law Center, which it says pursued its goal of keeping all humans off the Pea Islands without regard to the concerns of other affected parties.

In a video posted on its Facebook page, Save Our Sounds pleads “Don’t let leftwing extremists put animals and seaweed ahead of people.”

The group claims in both the video and its complaint that the proposed bridge would hurt local tourism by disrupting kite-boarding and other recreational activities in the area, and this in turn would harm property values and rental and business incomes.

The plaintiffs contend the agencies’ analysis of bridge alternatives failed to address these socioeconomic impacts.

Located along the Pamlico Sound north of the Hatteras Island community of Rodanthe, the proposed 2.4-mile bridge — shaped like the handle of a jug — has been awarded a construction and design contract of $145.3 million.

Related erosion control and beach nourishment projects bring the total costs associated with the bridge somewhat closer to $179 million and potentially as much as $198 million.

The new span will replace the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge, which takes N.C.-12 over Oregon Inlet between Hatteras and Bodie islands. The Bonner Bridge was built in 1962, and NCDOT says it is at the end of its reasonable service life.

Save Our Sound seeks injunctive relief and an order that the agencies issue a supplemental environmental impact statement that considers and weighs alternatives to the jug-handle project that reflect its concerns.

The plaintiffs are represented by Michael Murphy of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP of Washington, D.C., and Zia Oatley of Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Representatives of the defendants did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.

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