Department of the Interior
|Office of the Secretary
For Immediate Release:
July 26, 2006
Contact: Hugh Vickery, DOI,
Tom Mackenzie, FWS,
Senator Burr, North Carolina Governor Easley Support Proposal to Replace Bonner Bridge
U.S. Senator Richard Burr and North Carolina Governor Michael F. Easley have expressed support for a proposal by Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne to replace the aging Herbert C. Bonner Bridge in Dare County on North Carolina’s Outer Banks.
Kempthorne outlined his proposal in a July 5, 2006 letter to Burr and Easley, suggesting that the North Carolina Department of Transportation build the replacement bridge on approximately the same spot where Highway 12 crosses Oregon Inlet.
Engineers have raised concerns about the long-term safety of the 40-year-old Bonner Bridge. Officials have been debating what to do with both the bridge and the busy road, which is frequently over-washed by the ocean as it passes through Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge and requires expensive on-going maintenance.
“I believe the best way to proceed would be to separate the replacement of the Bonner Bridge, a project whose delay could constitute a clear and present safety issue for all concerned, from the more difficult and less urgent issue of the realignment of the road,” Kempthorne wrote.
“I applaud the U.S. Department of Interior and Secretary Kempthorne for finding a common sense solution for the replacement of North Carolina’s Bonner Bridge. The Outer Banks region is prone to hurricanes, and each hurricane season thousands of residents and tourists rely on the Bonner Bridge as an evacuation route in case of an emergency. The condition of the bridge has been a safety concern of many residents living in Eastern North Carolina for years,” Burr said. “The construction of a replacement bridge would alleviate those safety concerns while protecting the beauty of our coastline and continuing to support the local economy.”
"Secretary Kempthorne understands the need to balance the safety and
Kempthorne’s proposal is an alternative to two existing proposals that have been considered. One of these proposals would move both the road and the bridge to new locations farther from the ocean. However, because the new road would cut through a pristine area of the refuge, the Fish and Wildlife Service has indicated it would not be able to affirm that this would be compatible with the reasons the national wildlife refuge was created, as required by the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997.
The other proposal would build a new 17.5-mile bridge through Pamlico Sound, bypassing the refuge. This would enhance the refuge by removing the road and eliminating the habitat degradation associated with it. Opponents of this proposal have raised concerns about the cost of the project and its impact on hurricane evacuation.
“Our goal all along has been to work with the state and its congressional delegation to find a solution that will ensure the safety of travelers and protect the fragile Outer Banks ecosystem on Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge,” Kempthorne said. “I want to thank Gov. Easley, Sen. Burr, Congressman Walter Jones, State Sen. Marc Basnight and other officials who have worked with us.”
NOTE: Secretary Kempthorne’s letter is attached as a pdf file.