Bonner Bridge is falling down

and it's the Southern Environmental Law Center's fault, says DAG McCrory and his posse.

[Cross-posted from BackwardNC]

Let's be clear that this bridge failure is a very serious matter, and it's a very serious issue for residents and visitors of NC's Outer Banks.

Yet the NC GOP response to the discovery that the bridge is unsafe for travel is curious. They blamed the SELC, who has a long-running lawsuit against the state regarding a planned replacement bridge. They blamed the SELC loudly, immediately, and in perfect harmony with one another. Transportation Secretary Tony Tata took the lead, showing his Fox News commentator skills:

“These ivory tower elitists file these lawsuits from their air-conditioned offices in Chapel Hill. And they do so with their lattes and their contempt, and chuckle while the good people of the Outer Banks are fighting hard to scratch out a living here based on tourism and based on access.”

The Twitterverse lit up with at least half a dozen legislators, including the Tillisberger, tweeting the GOP talking point of blaming the SELC.

The infamous John "Obama is a Muslim" Torbett even incoherently attempted to get a torch-bearing mob together (at least we think that's what he meant with this incoherent tweet):

And apparently it's working.

The Southern Environmental Law Center has received “multiple threats” after state officials blamed the organization for the shutdown of the bridge, the group said in a letter to Gov. Pat McCrory on Friday.

Let's put aside for a moment the merits of the SELC's lawsuit and our opinions about who has the best plan for a replacement bridge, which everyone agrees is needed.

The SELC's lawsuit might or might not have delayed beginning construction of a replacement bridge, depending on who you believe. But regardless, the SELC's lawsuit did not cause the state of North Carolina to allow the current bridge to deteriorate to an unsafe state. The SELC didn't cause anyone to forgo preventative maintenance or repairs to the current bridge.

I'm not a conspiracy theorist, but it would be pretty easy for one to imagine a conspiratorial plot to "discover" problems with the bridge and use that as leverage to attack the SELC and pressure them to drop their lawsuit. It does seem a little strange that, in the initial waves of this crisis, one of the first things the public officials worried about was placing blame on SELC. And the anti-SELC messaging was immediate, aggressive and clearly coordinated.

My fair lady.


I support SELC

And give them as much money as I can every year. An attack by the anti-environmental zealots in Raleigh should be good for fundraising ... and in no way will cause them to back off of their challenges to this stupid bridge.

Hatteras Island

There are two Facebook pages I've found in following the local residents, offering news and assistance to those stranded. I'm sharing the nicer one below. I can see the goading tactics employed against SELC, as described above. There's also a very nice letter posted on Bridge Mom's page, written by Laura Young, about the generous spirit of the islanders.

The environmental dilemma is a complicated one. In contrast, I was living in Boise, Idaho, home of fierce devotees of the rugged beauty, hikers, skiers, etc. When Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt came to visit, the local front page headline reminded me of the "Dewey Wins" headline. It was that big in the news, fear that "Washington" was interfering in "their" state, that outside environmentalists were trying to tell them they didn't properly take care of or appreciate "their" state. The fear was over regulation of logging by the federal government. When the Hanford Nuclear Plant cleanup was going on in Washington state, I heard, "those people have no understanding of the environment." As important as "impartial" science is, locals think about these issues on a deep level because it is their home, and some of them do understand the environment, and do appreciate more than just a "fix the bridge" argument. I just urge caution in not underestimating their intelligence, even as passions are stirred at the moment. And to keep in mind caution against "outsider" paternalism. If it was your property, your backyard, you might get a little heated too.

I've supported OBX folks in the past

I'd like to think I helped with the push to stop ferry tolls for the people who live on Ocracoke, and I stand ready to help on other issues as well. But whether the Hatteras residents believe it or not, the longer bridge will better ensure their access, by avoiding the (nearly inevitable) road washouts that will occur if the longer bridge isn't built.


OMG, I am from Ocracoke, and I thought I was the only person in the world who could see behind the hate campaign directed at the SELC. Thank you for posting this. Where as we desperately need a working route to our homes and businesses, we must look beyond the short term solution of building a parallel bridge next to the old one. The permits and the funding were in place in 2003 for the long bridge, and everyone now seems to have forgotten that and there is no mention of the Dare county Commissioner's role in shutting down the long bridge solution back in 2003.


And I'm growing tired of all the talk about how a 17 mile bridge is crazy long, when they built 42 bridges to link to the Florida Keys.

I think

the NC GOP's attempt to blame SELC is quite transparent and lots of people see through it.

Tony Tata, the contemptuous latte-drinking asshole, should be fired for his stupid remarks that served as the opening salvo against SELC and environmental protection.

"I will have a priority on building relationships with the minority caucus. I want to put substance behind those campaign speeches." -- Thom Tillis, Nov. 5, 2014

Conspiracy theory granted

From day 1 -- a week ago -- DAG McCrony already had clearly rehearsed talking points to attack SELC. On his radio interview with his crappy cell phone, he tried to whip up people against SELC, making sure to call them a "left-wing" group and telling folks that "they have an office in Chapel Hill".

Listen to the audio. There's no doubt that this was the message the DAG wanted to deliver, and it's clearly been coordinated with Tata and legislators. The SELC attacks didn't pop up after the crisis had been initially addressed; the attacks were part of the messaging from the beginning.

I'm not a conspiracy theorist, and I'm not claiming they manufactured the crisis just for this purpose, but, boy, the timing sure does give ammo to conspiracy theorists, and they sure did use the public safety issue for political purposes, right from the very beginning -- and that implies planning and coordination.

Someone ought to request the public records from DAG, Tata and others relevant to this situation. Of course, it would take a lot of time and $ to get the public records that the DAG doesn't want you to have.

"I will have a priority on building relationships with the minority caucus. I want to put substance behind those campaign speeches." -- Thom Tillis, Nov. 5, 2014

Ah, the timing, the timing!

It all makes sense. If construction of the new bridge continues to be delayed, the construction won't be completed during DAG McCrony's term (we're sure he remains deluded that he has a chance to gain a second term, especially if he can get that bridge built!).

"I will have a priority on building relationships with the minority caucus. I want to put substance behind those campaign speeches." -- Thom Tillis, Nov. 5, 2014

Non Partisan

I am an environmentalist, I largely vote Democrat, I get annoyed when people don't think long term and I believe in progress. I want to see windmills and solar energy replace fossil fuels completely and the car I drive was chosen specifically because it is efficient and has a low carbon output. I believe in protecting natural habitat for endangered and non-endangered species alike and I am fully in favor of maintaining national parks and wildlife preserves both here and abroad. It is not often that I agree with the things that Republican politicians do & say but I try to stay open minded so that I can hear what everyone is saying. When NJ Gov Christie stood next to President Obama and thanked him in the wake of Hurricane Sandy I though "Good for you putting politics aside and thinking of your citizens first"
I am a resident of Hatteras Island and a practicing environmentalist and I am here to tell you that this bridge needs to be replaced. Replacing the bridge isn't developing an undeveloped wildlife refuge - building an 17 mile bridge through the sound is indeed developing undeveloped wildlife refuge. This project was approved long ago and funded long ago but has been repeatedly held up by the lawsuits brought forth by the SELC and the clients they represent. It is our contention that the SELC is not sharing all the facts with their clients and that the supporters of these groups (The Defenders of Wildlife and National Wildlife Refuge Association) don't know the facts of what is going on. As an example State Secretary of Revenue Lyons Gray, appointed by McCrory after his election in Nov. 2012, is a member of the board of directors of Defenders of Wildlife. “He was not aware they were a plaintiff and he is going to try to get them to change their mind,” McCrory said. “If he can’t, he will resign from that board.”
This is a man appointed by a Republican gov. who is a board member of an environmental organization and even he was unaware that the organization was a plaintiff in this case. The membership of these organizations do not know who they are supporting and what their money is going to.
Please believe me when I say that if I thought a 17 mile bridge where the environmentally responsible thing to do I would support the $1.1 billion pricetag and encourage the people of this island to look at the cost as a long term benefit. I do not, however, believe that developing 17 miles of undisturbed shallow waterway is environmentally conscious.
I hate to see some of the players in this controversy using inflammatory rhetoric and calling people "elitists", finger pointing, and screaming "conservative" & "liberal". If this weren't happening I believe that people like yourselves who are removed from the situation would be able to see a bit more clearly what is going on here. Thanks for reading

Thanks for the comment

We're all environmentalists. In fact, BlueNC played a significant role in stopping the OLF from moving into northeastern North Carolina. As did the SELC.

The bridge is a complicated issue, and many people disagree on the most environmentally sound approach. (No bridge will be environmentally responsible, just as continued development on the outer banks is also not environmentally responsible, but that's an issue for another day.)

I trust the SELC and have found them to be nothing but honorable and transparent in all of their dealings.

What is your contention that the SELC has withheld information from their clients based on?

Who are you referring to when you say "our" contention?

Re: Thanks...

"Our" refers to the residents and property owners of Hatteras Island and those who support replacement of the bridge. Granted there are many people who support replacement who don't necessarily look at is from the "deeper" viewpoints. As I said in my first post the membership of Defenders of Wildlife are simply being told that the bridge is going to be a new version of the same problem and are being offered the long bridge as the best alternative when it is not a better alternative in consideration of the environment and it is not economically feasible either. I believe that the SELC is simply using this case as a cash cow as horrible as it is to think and say. I really want to believe that the SELC has best intentions for the environment but what is going on here makes that very difficult. The roadway (Hwy 12) is not new nor are the villages on the island and none of us are asking for or want to develop the protected areas of the island because they are what make it the beautiful place it is. I'm sorry for the brief post but I'm late to get on the road! Best wishes!

Travel safe

I understand your point, but knowing the SELC intimately as I do, the idea that this project is a "cash cow" doesn't hold water. I know you disagree with their conclusions, but your attacks on their motives and practices are way off-base.

Looks like you've been drinking McCrory kool-aid.

PS regarding Bonner Bridge

This just in from the League of Conservation Voters


“What do you do when you’re stalled in the courts on a major transportation project? If you’re Governor Pat McCrory, you launch a personal attack against the citizen conservation group that’s challenging you.

It’s a ploy straight out of the old anti-environmental playbook. When poor planning by a government agency or greed by a polluter leaves a community in a fix, then blame the environmentalists who’ve been telling you about the problem (and how to fix it) for years. Tell the community facing the problem that it’s the nasty environmentalists (not you!) who have put them there–and try to win by intimidation what you can’t achieve by law.

In this case, the debate is over the replacement of the aging Bonner Bridge over Oregon Inlet to Hatteras Island on the Outer Banks. A battle in the press and now the courts has raged for years over whether to replace the bridge with another in essentially the same place, or to install a much longer bridge in the sound. The longer bridge would bypass the areas most immediately threatened by the shifting inlet sands and by repeated storm washouts of Highway 12 along narrow northern Hatteras Island. Of special environmental significance, it would also bypass the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge at the northern end of the island.

State and local officials and some tourism interests have fought that alternative because it would cost much more to build, and because it would make the northern-most beach areas less easily accessed by off-road vehicles. Two years ago, the state Dept. of Transportation approved a contract to rebuild the shorter bridge. Two citizen conservation groups, represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), filed a challenge in federal court, asserting that the state’s course of action unnecessarily threatened the wildlife refuge and ignored the more logical longer option. So far, just another legitimate public policy debate.

Last week, however, the McCrory Administration seized news of the temporary emergency closure of Bonner Bridge due to structural issues and erosion around the base of some supports to launch a public attack. State Transportation Secretary Tony Tata pointed blame toward the SELC: ‘These ivory tower elitists file these lawsuits from their air-conditioned offices in Chapel Hill. And they do so with their lattes and their contempt, and chuckle while the good people of the Outer Banks are fighting hard to scratch out a living here based on tourism and based on access.’

McCrory himself piled in a press conference Friday, in which he blamed SELC for delays in replacing the bridge, called them “irresponsible”, and said he would send letters to SELC’s directors asking them to drop their legal challenge. A prepared statement by NC legislative leaders Sen. Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) and Rep. Thom Tillis (R-Mecklenburg) howled that SELC’s “frivolous lawsuit is only the latest episode in their scheme to agitate the left and raise funds for an extreme, fringe agenda–this time, at the expense of Northeastern North Carolina’s economy.” In a Nags Head radio station interview, McCrory went further over the top: “They’re [SELC] putting people in jeopardy. They’re putting jobs in jeopardy.”

That odor wafting off this display of public fulmination is the scent of political opportunism: Take a genuine hardship like another temporary bridge closure of the only road route onto an island, and use it in a flagrant effort to create a ‘boogeyman’ in advance of the 2014 election cycle. SELC fired back Friday, calling the comments by McCrory and crew ‘irresponsible personal attacks’ and pointing to political leaders’ decision to pursue a flawed solution as the root of the problem.


Sources within SELC report that its North Carolina and Virginia offices have received ‘abusive and threatening’ calls following the attacks, but note that the organization and its clients have no intent of backing down. At this point, it appears that the episode is scrolling out as the latest attack by the current state administration and legislative leadership on environmental protection and those who advocate for it.”

See more at:


I'm disappointed that you chose to finish your reply with a nasty comment James. I would have hoped that you would rise above participating in name calling particularly when your initial comments condemned McCrory & Tata for their choice of words (a point on which I agreed with you!) The only route to amicable solutions is through constructive speech. Best Regards

That wasn't a nasty comment

It was an observation that you were using McCrory's comments as evidence to support your own opinions. Didn't mean to offend. My apologies.

While I don't disagree

about the transient nature of Outer Banks geology (that's how you say it nicely), the people who reside there are as unique as the formation they call home, and they deserve a voice. They also deserve to live, which I really shouldn't have to clarify.

Note: I edited your comment, which I also shouldn't have had to do. Please don't force me to make many more edits, or I may have to decide whether it's all worth it.

Not really...

Not that there's anything wrong with it per se, it's just...wait. Is Steve short for Stephanie? Like Stevie Nicks, maybe? Because if so, I don't want to miss out on an ever-decreasing opportunity for some lovin'. But if it's short for Steven or Stephen, I'm gonna have to pass. :)