Raleigh, N.C. (WTKR)- A ruling from the United States Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals is again putting plans to replace the aging Bonner Bridge on hold.
The bridge over the Oregon Inlet is the only highway link to and from Hatteras Island, but replacing it has been challenged by lawsuits from environmental groups.
The 58-page ruling sends back to Judge Louise Flanagan a decision she made in September 2013 that deals with the federal regulations about transportation projects in wildlife refuges.
The three-judge panel did uphold part of Flanagan's ruling though that the North Carolina Department of Transportation had complied with the National Environmental Policy Act when evaluating the multiple proposals for replacement.
“The citizens and visitors of North Carolina appreciate the Fourth Circuit’s thorough opinion that affirms the district court’s summary judgment upholding NCDOT’s NEPA permit. As we review and determine the best way to proceed on other elements of the ruling, which may further delay the project, we are encouraged that our state is one step closer to replacing the Bonner Bridge,” said NCDOT Secretary Tony Tata in a news release.
Lawyers for the Southern Environmental Law Center, representing Defenders of Wildlife and the National Wildlife Refuge Association who sued, also released a statement following the court ruling.
“Today’s court decision affirms that NCDOT must protect national treasures like Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge while it addresses the unreliability of this stretch of NC 12,” said Julie Youngman, senior attorney at SELC in the release.
Replacing the bridge has reached a critical point.
In the past year it has been closed twice. Once in December for safety concerns and again in July for several days in the wake of Hurricane Arthur.
NCDOT released information following the ruling that says they, along with the Attorney General’s Office and Federal Highway Administration are jointly reviewing the next steps required to deliver the project as soon as possible.