Trump: New Bonner Bridge shows need for regulatory rollbacks

By on April 12, 2018

Construction started in the spring of 2016 after a series of legal challenges by environmental groups were settled. (Sam Walker)

President Donald Trump is pointing to the long-in-the-works Bonner Bridge Replacement Project as an example of how his administration’s cuts to environmental review requirements would hasten construction of major infrastructure projects.

But environmental advocates aren’t buying it.

A White House press release said inefficient environmental reviews have led to unnecessary delays, depriving communities of needed infrastructure projects, such as the new span over Oregon Inlet that is scheduled to open by the end of the year.

“No longer will we allow the infrastructure of our magnificent country to crumble and decay. While protecting the environment, we will build gleaming new roads, bridges, railways, waterways, tunnels, and highways,” Trump said in the statement.

The White House said federal agencies, including the departments of the Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, Transportation, Energy and Homeland Security and the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers, are signing a “One Federal Decision” memorandum of understanding, or MOU, for environmental reviews of major infrastructure projects.

Trump had called for the MOU in an executive order in August 2017. The MOU sets a two-year goal for each agency to complete all environmental reviews and authorization decisions for major infrastructure projects.

One lead federal agency is to be responsible for navigating each major infrastructure project through the entire federal environmental review and permitting process.

The median environmental review for a complex highway project takes more than seven years, according to a 2014 Government Accountability Office report.

The White House said the environmental review and permitting for the Bonner Bridge project took more than 20 years, but environmental advocates say that’s not true.

Kym Hunter, staff attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, said citing the Bonner Bridge project as an example of the supposed need for streamlining environmental permitting shows the White House does not have its facts straight.

“In reality, the project was delayed because it is complicated. As designed by federal and state transportation agencies, the Bonner Bridge project is not just a bridge — it’s actually a 15-mile-long corridor on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, including many areas where the highway is falling into the Atlantic Ocean. Much of the early project delay was centered on local political concerns and funding shortfalls,” Hunter said.

She said that contrary to the White House statement, the Bonner Bridge project was an example of coordination between federal and state agencies as part of North Carolina’s Merger Team process.

Throughout this process, agencies worked together to navigate local political concerns and funding limitations, she said. Once the agencies reached consensus that they needed to start moving the highway away from the rapidly eroding shoreline, the process moved swiftly, Hunter said.

“There is nothing in the new MOU that would have expedited the Bonner Bridge project. If this is the best example the White House can come up with, we question the value of the proposal,” she said.

Hunter said law center attorneys were skeptical of the MOU. She noted that generally, projects get bogged down because of lack of resources, and the Trump administration is doing nothing to address that issue.

“Without sufficient staff available in those agencies it’s hard to see projects moving forward any faster and still complying with relevant laws,” Hunter said. “We are concerned that some of the new proposed time frames could lead to rushed, illegal decision-making that doesn’t properly consider public input – particularly for a project as complicated as the Bonner Bridge.”

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  • Roadrunner

    Attorneys are the reason it has taken 20 years. They don’t give a rats ass about the environment. It would be interesting to see what they have earned just from delaying this project.

    Thursday, Apr 12 @ 8:19 am
  • The Captain

    Southern……. blowing smoke aan! Yes, Complex from an engineering and planning standpoint, but it was various Federal governmental agencies fighting amongst one another fired by conflicting “Charters” and “Mandates”. Then throw in “Fuel” by obstinate, high powered, money bags liberal tree huggers. A central agency could have ruled on this in a heartbeat. It is sad to put Animal/Nature issues before the safety of Human Beings. Okay now where are the OI Jetties. All of Nas Head BN sitting in the Inlet. Another Boondoggle, then add in the government’s inability to keep the Inlet Navigable as required by Law. Channel authorized at 14′ MLW it’s now 4′ feet over the Bar.

    Thursday, Apr 12 @ 8:24 am
  • WombatNC

    If they’d built the “long-bridge plan” 10 years ago, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. It would’ve cost the same at the time. Now, after all of the fussing, rise in cost of materials, etc. we get the short bridge for the same cost.
    Either way, I’m glad it’s coming to completion; this will be be good for Hatteras & Ocracoke – they could use some positive mojo after all the crap they’ve had to endure over those years.
    The next thing Dare County needs to do is purchase it’s own dredger and then alternate it’s operations between Oregon Inlet and Hatteras Inlet.

    Thursday, Apr 12 @ 4:48 pm
  • Getting Local

    Trump cares about the OBX? Wow! Thought he only liked the swanky places.

    Thursday, Apr 12 @ 5:58 pm
  • John

    I agree with WombatNC on if they built the 17 mile bridge years ago. Would have saved money over the next 100 years ( est. life of the new bridge)

    Thursday, Apr 12 @ 10:57 pm
  • southerly neighbor

    come on ya’ll. the easiest fix would be to have no bridge and get the old Oregon inlet ferry crossing set back up. it’s all a waste of time and money since the island is shrinking year after year and hwy 12 can barely be kept above water and free of sand. the worst thing that could ever be done was try to establish a roadway on a sandbar. come on get real. can’t you see the writing on the wall? mark my word it will be nothing but ferry access to almost every town on Hatteras island before long. ferry over Oregon inlet to rodanthe/avon. ferry to buxton/frisco and lastly one to hatteras. except we’ll have to pay to ride these boats because there will be no return for the investment, that is, the money coming in from tourism and property taxes on hatteras island wont be worth building bridges or running free ferries. people leave places for less worse reasons, is a disappearing road one of them?

    Friday, Apr 13 @ 8:21 am
  • scales of balance

    A statement by a president who clearly had no idea what he was talking about, and a rebuttal by an SELC staffer who conveniently forgot their part in the dragging on of the issue. Disinformation on both sides, it’s no wonder the electorate is confused.

    Friday, Apr 13 @ 9:07 am
  • Bud

    OBX = obnoxious

    Sunday, Apr 15 @ 6:07 am
  • Tim Beacham

    President Trump is correct.

    Sunday, Apr 15 @ 8:05 pm
  • Roy Cobb

    The President is exactly right.
    It was the envioronuts that held up the bridge, just like they blocked folks from driving on the beach because of bird nests. They are all about making money.
    The Southern Environmental Law Center published a baloney article about having cleaner air with two photos, a before (1998 when their organization founded) and after (2015). What they did was use photos taken when the humidity was high and then when it was low. Those of us who live on the OBX know that you can’t see far when it is humid and that you can see a great distance when it is dry.

    Wednesday, Apr 18 @ 9:51 am