Monday, August 9, 2010

My Bridge Comment

Drew Joyner, Human Environment Unit Head, NCDOT

1598 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699

Dear Mr. Joyner,

I want to thank you for the opportunity to provide public comment on the proposed construction of a replacement for the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge which links Bodie and Hatteras Islands as part of N.C. Highway 12.

This bridge, opened in 1963, provides an exceptionally vital link for the residents of Hatteras Island as it is through the use and travels via this edifice that virtually all of our various and sundry life supplies reach their destination. The Bonner Bridge also provides the only practical avenue for evacuation during major coastal storm events as well as the most often utilized route for visitor traffic which the economy of Hatteras Island is almost entirely dependent.

This span has long passed its projected life expectancy and needs replaced. Currently the bridge stands with a sufficiency rating of only two out a possible 100 and has required literally millions of dollars in repair costs in the 17 years since it was due for replacement. I would remind your office of a bridge in Minnesota which collapsed not many years ago, taking several lives, which enjoyed a significantly higher rating. I would also remind you of the video that circulated a few years ago where divers inspecting the Bonner Bridge piles where able to literally remove significant chunks of concrete from these piles with their bare hands. The bridge is deteriorating daily and it is of the utmost importance that construction of a new span begins immediately.

With an estimated five thousand vehicles crossing Oregon Inlet daily, a number that can swell to around ten thousand during the summer months, catastrophic failure of this vital transportation link will surely lead to a great loss of life and simultaneously destroy the economy of Hatteras and probably Ocracoke Island as well.

Mr. Joyner, the replacement of this bridge has been studied for two decades with very little forward progress and it is time to dispense with additional, redundant study, as this will further increase the likelihood of failure of the existing span prior to the completion of a new, well engineered, avenue of egress.

On August 6th, 2010, Island Free Press ( published a brief chronology of this process which I understand to be the longest set of studies ever conducted by NCDOT for a transportation project.

It reads as follows:

• 1990. State begins feasibility study for replacing Bonner Bridge

• November, 1993. Draft Environmental Impact Statement on bridge replacement is released for review. It favors a parallel bridge.

• Early 1994. Public hearings on DEIS.

• 1996. Preliminary Final Environmental Impact Statement is issued, which was never signed because of lack of consultation with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

• 2001. Because it had been more than seven years since the completion of the DEIS, a re-evaluation is conducted to determine if the preliminary FEIS remains a viable alternative. Decision is made to prepare a supplement to the DEIS.

• 2002. Work begins on Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS).supplement to DEIS.

• September, 2005. Supplemental DEIS completed and signed. It includes five alternatives, including short- and long-bridge options.

• November, 2005. Public hearings are held on SDEIS.

• February, 2007. Supplement to SDEIS is signed. This supplement to the supplement includes two new parallel bridge options.

• March, 2007. Two public meeting are held on the supplement to the Supplemental DEIS.

• September, 2008. Final Environmental Impact Statement is signed. It favors Parallel Bridge with Phased Approach /Rodanthe Bridge as the preferred alternative and addresses comments made the SDEIS and SSDEIS.

• May, 2009. Parallel Bridge Corridor with Highway 12 Transportation Management Plan Alternative was added to the FEIS and selected as the preferred alternative. This is a variation on parallel bridge alternatives addressed in FEIS.

• October, 2009. Revised Section 4 (f) evaluation is issued in response to comments received on the FEIS. It determines Pamlico Sound Bridge – the long bridge -- is not feasible.

• January, 2010. Federal Highway Administration requests an Environmental Assessment of the preferred alternative in the FEIS.

• May, 2010. Environmental Assessment is released.

• June, 2010. Public comment period on EA is announced with public meetings scheduled for July.

• Next up. Examine public comments on new EA and determine if more environmental studies are needed. If no more studies are needed, a Record of Decision could be issued in September.

And now we’re told that additional study may be needed before your department issues a record of decision. Mr. Joyner, this has gone on too long already and the only tangible result to date is a further and unnecessary compromise of public safety.

It is also abundantly clear that NCDOT faces litigation regarding right of way reserved by North Carolina through the area known as Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge which effectively covers the northern most thirteen miles of Hatteras Island. Environmental lawyers, most notably Derb Carter from the Southern Environmental Law Center have made claims that this documented, legal right of way is void stating that the Refuge was acquired under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act which is patently false. This area was in fact acquired under 16 USC 459 as part of the establishment of what Congress determined would be part of Cape Hatteras National Seashore (Recreational Area (amended 1940)) in 1937. The Congress also stated that:

16 USC 459 SEC. 5. “Notwithstanding any other provisions of this act, lands and waters now or hereafter included in any migratory bird refuge under the jurisdiction of the Secretary of Agriculture, within the boundaries of the national seashore as designated by the Secretary of the Interior under section 1 hereof, shall continue as such refuge under the jurisdiction of the Secretary of Agriculture for the protection of migratory birds, but such lands and waters shall be a part of the aforesaid national seashore and shall be administered by the National Park Service for recreational uses not inconsistent with the purposes of such refuge under such rules and regulations as the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture may jointly approve.”

This is further reflected within the 2006 Interim Management Strategy published by USFWS which points out that said refuge is merely an overlay of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreational Area.

In fact, sir, the refuge in question was established not by the Congress as is required by the Constitution of The United States but by Executive Order and has never been vetted in any form by the aforementioned legislative body as required by law and is, as such, an illegal entity and so its status as a “refuge” should not play into any decision that NCDOT makes regarding the replacement of this lifeline so vital to those of us that reside here as well as those who choose to visit our pristine, user maintained beaches.

Mr. Joyner, very soon, school buses full of children will again begin to cross the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge along with many others who come to fish and bathe on our beaches and the lives of these children and adults depend on a safe and efficient method of egress to and from Hatteras Island. Only a new bridge, long overdue, can provide that. I find it rather ironic, in a very sad, way that a driver can be ticketed for speeding through a NCDOT work zone and yet for the last 17 years, thousands of American families have been forced to cross this vital but deteriorating link on and off this island while potentially risking death because of a project that should have been completed long ago.

I would be remiss not to include a comment regarding the positive economic impact that this unbelievably overdue project would bring to Dare County. The current economic crisis as well as the court sanctioned “Consent Decree” that has for three years closed most of the beaches within the Seashore has taken Dare from being a “donor county” to that which had one of the highest unemployment rates in North Carolina. The construction of this much needed edifice will undoubtedly go a long way to rectify that situation as it will increase the need for goods and services and spur the local economy putting many residents back to work as well as increase the demand for housing.

Mr. Joyner, the time for a record of decision is long past. We need a new bridge now! To delay this action further, puts lives at risk, threatens our economy to an astounding degree, and will serve no purpose other than to expend additional millions of taxpayer dollars attempting to repair a span long overdue for replacement. As such, it is imperative that NCDOT issue a record of decision in favor of the immediate replacement of this bridge.

Thank you for your time and consideration of this commentary.

Jeffrey Golding
Buxton, N.C.

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