Groups sue to block Mid-Currituck Bridge


From staff reports

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

CHAPEL HILL — Opponents of the Mid-Currituck Bridge have filed a lawsuit to block construction of the 7-mile span across the Currituck Sound, claiming it would damage the environmentally sensitive sound, harm wildlife habitat, and lead to growth in undisturbed areas along Currituck’s northern Outer Banks.

The Southern Environmental Law Center’s office in Chapel Hill said in a press release Tuesday it filed the lawsuit on behalf of hunters, fishermen and wildlife enthusiasts from the N.C. Wildlife Federation.

The lawsuit also lists as plaintiffs the groups No Mid-Currituck Bridge-Concerned Citizens, and Visitors Opposed to the Mid-Currituck Bridge.

Defendants in the lawsuit include the N.C. Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration. DOT is in charge of constructing the bridge project, estimated to cost $491 million. The federal highway agency issued what’s known as a “record of decision” approving the bridge project several months ago.

Also named in the lawsuit as defendants are DOT Secretary James H. Trogdon III and Edward Parker, assistant division administrator for the Federal Highway Administration.

The SELC claims that the bridge, which would stretch from Aydlett on the Currituck mainland to Corolla on the Outer Banks, would increase pollution and damage “natural processes” needed to help the coast adapt to flooding, storm surge and rising sea levels.

“It is unfortunate that Governor (Roy) Cooper’s NCDOT continues to press forward with this wasteful, destructive bridge” SELC attorney Kym Hunter said in the press release. “It’s hard to square the governor’s executive order on climate change with this bridge that will encourage more development in a part of North Carolina vulnerable to rising sea levels and coastal flooding. Our state would be better served directing those resources to road improvements needed to improve resiliency in Eastern North Carolina.”

Tim Gestwicki, of the N.C. Wildlife Federation, said in the press release his organization also is “disappointed” DOT is proceeding with the bridge project.

“This unnecessary bridge would devastate one of the most important areas for migratory wildfowl, impairing the ability of hunters and anglers to enjoy this unique area,” he said.

Jen Symonds, of the citizens group No MCB, also claimed in the press release that the Mid-County Bridge, if constructed, would be a wasteful expenditure of public dollars.

“The proposed bridge would only really be used for 13 weekends a year during peak vacation time” she said. “Five-hundred million dollars is just too much to spend on vacation traffic when there are so many other needed transportation projects in coastal North Carolina, and so many alternative solutions to deal with the traffic.”

Asked for a response to the lawsuit, a spokeswoman for the N.C. Turnpike Authority, the agency responsible for building the bridge, said in an email Tuesday the agency doesn’t comment on active litigation.

However, in response to a question earlier this month about whether it had structured into its timelines for building the bridge the possibility of a lawsuit by the SELC, the Turnpike Authority said its schedule “is built with the flexibility to adapt to unforeseen events.”

“Our focus is on delivering this project as requested by the local communities,” Turnpike Authority officials said at the time.

The Turnpike Authority’s current schedule has the bridge’s construction being completed in 2025.

The bridge’s proponents have said for decades the span is needed to speed up the evacuation time of both tourists and residents from the Outer Banks in case of a hurricane or major tropical storm. Right now, evacuation “clearance times” from the Outer Banks via N.C. Highway 12 and U.S. Highway 158 don’t meet the state standard of 18 hours, DOT officials have said. The new bridge will solve that problem.

“The 40-mile shortcut is expected to provide a travel time savings of about two hours one-way during peak travel periods,” the agency said in a press release in March.

Bridge proponents also have said the span would help ease the bumper-to-bumper traffic in lower Currituck when vacationers travel to the Outer Banks during the summer.

The groups opposed to the bridge filed their lawsuit under the National Environmental Policy Act in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, the press release states.

No MCB and the SELC said they will host a meeting for the public to discuss the lawsuit at the Corolla library in Corolla on May 2 at 6 p.m.