Responding to complaints from state Sen. Marc Basnight about bureaucratic obstacles to a replacement for the deteriorating N.C. 12 bridge over Oregon Inlet in Dare County, an environmental group says Basnight himself is to blame for delaying the project.
Basnight urged President Barack Obama in a Feb. 24 letter to overrule federal officials he said were stalling a bridge replacement because they feared lawsuits from "out-of-state environmental groups," Bruce Siceloff reports.
Basnight, the state Senate leader, represents Dare County.
The Virginia-based Southern Environmental Law Center responded with a March 1 letter to Obama, advocating a bridge alternative that Basnight opposes.
"It was Senator Basnight’s intervention in 2003 that halted the process and prevented the construction of the Pamlico Sound alternative," wrote Derb S. Carter Jr. and Julia F. Youngman, based in the environmental group’s Chapel Hill office.
The group favors a 17-mile option that would be routed across Pamlico Sound to bypass a wildlife refuge and a section of N.C. 12 that is frequently washed out by storms. It says the Pamlico Sound option would be safer and cause less environmental damage.
Basnight and the state Department of Transportation prefer a plan to build a new bridge parallel to the old one, with further road and bridge improvements postponed to future years.
Carter and Youngman said recent DOT cost estimates for the two plans are similar: $943 million to $1.4 billion for the Pamlico Sound route, and $602 million to $1.5 billion for the parallel bridge alternative.
When state officials granted Basnight’s request for a delay in 2003, they said, the Pamlico Sound bridge was estimated to cost only $260 million. It could have been finished by now if Basnight had not intervened, the Southern Environmental Law Center letter said.
UPDATE: Basnight's spokesman, Schorr Johnson, scoffed at the conservation group's arguments.
"Any scenario in which Senator Basnight was trying to delay a
replacement bridge is ridiculous," Johnson said. "The state didn't have
the money for the long bridge in 2003 and they don't have it now."