Harkers Island bridge petition going to administrative hearing

A conceptual drawing shows where the N.C. Department of Transportation plans to build a replacement bridge between Harkers Island and the mainland. (NCDOT graphic)

HARKERS ISLAND — A legal petition over the N.C. Department of Transportation’s Harkers Island Bridge replacement project is going before an administrative law judge.

According to filings with the N.C. Office of Administrative Hearings, Administrative Law Judge Melissa Lassiter was assigned May 18 to preside over a petition for a contested case filed by Larry and Elizabeth Baldwin and Hollis and Carol Batson against the N.C.  Department of Environmental Quality and the state Coastal Resources Commission. The hearing is scheduled for the week beginning Monday, Sept. 21 in New Bern.

The project has been put on hold amid the litigation, and two Harkers Island officials expressed concerns over the delay and the potential effects it could have.

Harkers Island Fire Chief Chad Mann said the island needs a new access bridge.

“The drawbridge gets stuck (while raised) in the summertime during tourism season when its hot,” Chief Mann said. “Traffic has been backed up, and we’ve had to go to it and wet it down to get it closed. We usually do that at least two or three times each summer.”

Chief Mann said, so far, he’s been “pretty pleased” with the bridge project. However, he also said he and other Harkers Island residents want to be sure the beach strand near the new bridge site is maintained.

“A lot of local mothers take their kids to that beach,” Chief Mann said, “so we don’t want to lose that.”

Harkers Island Sanitary District Board Chairman and resident Clifford Rice said in an email that while he can’t comment on the merits of the petition, it’s “very disappointing these issues weren’t resolved before the bridge project got this far along.”

“The plans for the bridge were widely discussed, with a great deal of publicity and opportunities for public comment many months ago,” he said. “If there were concerns about the issues that are being raised in the recent filing, they should have been resolved in the beginning, instead of now delaying the project for an indeterminate time.”

Mr. Rice said anyone who crosses the bridge on a regular basis should have reason for concern about the timing of construction of its replacement. He said large sections of pavement are missing from the roadway, which will only get worse as heavy vehicles regularly cross.

He also said because the project involves relocating powerlines, the schedule is “further complicated” by the annual moratorium on in-water construction.

“The potential effects this will have on Harkers Island are many,” he said, “and none are positive. If the existing bridge fails, then the only way on or off the island would be by boat until some emergency repairs could be made.

“If the load carrying capacity of the bridge is reduced by continued deterioration, it could mean restricting traffic to a single lane with resulting delays in access…Time is of the essence in completing this project and all parties involved need to get their issues resolved and resume construction as soon as possible.”

Attorney Clark Wright of Davis, Hartman and Wright PLLC of New Bern filed the petition with the OAH May 12 on behalf of the Baldwins and Batsons. He said his clients have been seeking the hearing since the beginning of this civil case in July 2019.

“We’re now finally going to get an impartial hearing,” he said. “What our clients want is for NCDOT to recognize the legitimacy of their concerns.”

The Baldwins and Batsons own property on Harkers Island in the area where NCDOT is building the replacement bridge between Harkers Island and the mainland. The couples, in particular Mr. Baldwin, are concerned about the potential effects of the project, especially on the environment.

Mr. Baldwin serves as CRC vice chairperson. The commission makes the final decision on issuing major Coastal Area Management Act permits for coastal development projects.

Mr. Baldwin said Friday the, his wife and the Batsons aren’t opposed to replacing the bridge, but they have concerns about the design. He said they’re concerned the replacement bridge could result in wave action causing erosion on neighboring shorelines, an increase in shoaling in Jane’s Creek, stormwater runoff being sent into the creek instead of dispersed and utility lines taking up more linear footage than necessary.

“They (NCDOT) said if there’s problems, they’ll address it in the future,” Mr. Baldwin said.

N.C. Department of Justice Communications Director said in an email to the News-Times Carteret County Superior Civil Court Judge Charles Henry’s April 24 order to send the petition to an ALJ “isn’t a decision on the merits of the petitioners’ allegations.”

“To the contrary, the order specifically provides ‘neither the third party CAMA permit appeal statue nor any other relevant provisions of law or rule authorize either this court or respondent CRC to assess the ultimate weight or conclusions that may, in the future, be rendered as to petitioners’ alleged CAMA permit violations,’” Ms. Brewer said.

 

Contact Mike Shutak at 252-723-7353, email mike@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter at @mikesccnt.

(9) comments

ncjake2000

There was a time on the island, a generation or two past, when this sort of (BS) interference from outsiders with money would have met a much, much different outcome. Sad to see how the islands backbone has succumbed to wealthy out'landers wishes. Ironically, before the bridge, the island was considered worthless to outsiders because it wasn't "convenient" to get to. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you! No doubt, there are some Harker's ancestors that are spinning in their graves about now.

Core Sounder

too many private individual and numerous environmental groups suing or threatening to do so knowing that the State will eventually have to buy them off which in turn drives up the cost of things significantly for taxpayers of NC and the rest of the Country as well. That's the reason it took forever to finish up on the North river bridge even though its still being worked on. The proposed bypass around Havelock will cost millions more due to certain environmental groups suing even after the Dept of Interior finally approved the plans. Of course this is how these groups make money to pay their salaries so as long as we allow them to do so, they will.

Osprey

NCDOT inept planning is the underlying cause of this action. People can blame the land owners but it appears the NCDOT is responsible. Bigger concern should be who is contracted to build the replacement bridge to avoid the ongoing fiasco like whats happened over at North River

RJ Buck

I agree with Fire Chief Mann and share the same concerns he does. This bridge project needs to move forward ASAP. I have witnessed firsthand that bridge malfunction and often wondered what would happen in a life and death situation to the residents of Harkers Island if there was a fire, medical or law enforcement emergency and there was no way to get on the island? The bridge needs to replaced sooner than later.

RJ Buck

Chief Mann is correct on many fronts, the beach has been a great place for residents to take their family and enjoy the beach and water. The Chiefs comments about the condition and the reliability of the bridge is dead on. How can those who live on Harkers Island continue to rely on a bridge that is old and has broken down many times in recent years? This is a safety issue that could be the difference of a life and death situation if fire, EMS or law enforcement can not cross the bridge because it is broken down. Please move forward with the new bridge plans.

PINEYPOINTER

The Island has been infested with dingbatters for quite awhile now.Use to they would visit'bring their boat'and some had summer homes here.Now they own most all of the waterfront property 'locals having sold it 'and its a d--- shame.Marshallberg is about the same.Likely as many dingbatters as locals.Downeast is changing but by no means for the better.

wcoop8131

I am amazed at some people's willingness to overlook the state agencies complete disregard for complying with the proper procedure for undertaking a project such as our bridge. I'm curious how many of those who bash these owners for making a stand owned camps on the banks before NPS unilaterally decided to take it away, with no procedure or process. It was for the greater good they justified, that you not have something you'd worked and sweated over, and just kicked you off. No way to question the process, no recourse, just get off the banks.

I don't think anyone, including the landowners in this case, argue against a new bridge. It seems what this suit is about is holding the government accountable for these agency's actions of disregarding the proper process.

From the other article, the owners seemed to have exhausted every option to resolve their concerns well before filing for an injunction but the state never engaged in any meaningful discussion. I don't think this suit is about stopping the bridge project, but holding the government to the same standard we are held to.

rooster

The move is purely an attempt to delay and/or cash-in. All anyone has to do is search "Harkers Island Bridge" at the top of this page to see how long it has been that damage and deterioration has made this bridge unsafe and in desperate need of replacement. No- this suit has nothing to do with holding the government to some standard. And wcoop8131 Yes, I did in fact own one of the camps on Shackleford Banks that was taken by the NPS and then burned down- but that has nothing to do with this bridge and how bad it's needed!

ICW

Just a couple of quick thoughts/clarifications from the attorney representing these good folk. First, the Baldwins and the Batsons have been property owners on the Island for 20 or more years . . . while it is a natural human emotion to divide folk into "us" versus "them," it also needs to be a natural human emotion that "we are all in this together" . . . Second, Larry Baldwin and his wife have made their home on the Island for almost 20 years . . . Third, this case has nothing to do with the issue of condemnation of portions of the Baldwin-Batson lands . . . those cases are being handled by another attorney and how they turn out will have pretty much nothing in common with the environmental issues that I am working with the Baldwins and Batsons on. Third, the Baldwins and the Batsons have personally observed the slow and steady decline in the conditions in the Janes Creek estuarine system . . . not only has the mouth of the Creek where it empties into The Straits been really impacted in a bad way by the EXISTING bridge and all the rip-rap that NCDOT has had to dump into the waters of The Straits to prevent Mother Nature from taking out the foundation where it comes ashore on the Island, existing bridge, but the waters in this important mixing zone where the waters of the Creek estuary mix with the waters of The Straits are now closed to shellfishing, and evidence of reduced aquatic life is inescapable. Fourth, Larry Baldwin, himself a senior environmental consultant and member of the Coastal Resources Commission, did not lightly decide to work with his wife and adjacent property owners/friends to fight this permit - it could well hurt his consulting business, and perhaps even his relationships with the other good folk who serve on the CRC and work for the Division of Coastal Management . . . these good people also knew that some on the Island would react like some of those have here in their comments. Despite all that [not to mention the considerable legal costs tied to paying me and paying filing fees and other court costs] the Baldwins and Batsons decided to submit their initial third party permit appeal request, thinking that this would spark NCDOT and the CAMA regulators to sit down with them and in good faith work to address and resolve the very real environmental impact concerns that the Baldwins and Batsons had been repeatedly raising with NCDOT during the prior 2-3 years. Fifth, did you know that NCDOT managed to avoid preparing any environmental impact statement on this $40 million dollar project - even though the new bridge is a totally different, single span design, located in a totally different footprint that necessarily will cause much more damage to the already hurting Janes Creek estuary and surrounding waters of The Straits!? Sixth, did you know that had NCDOT and the CAMA regulators not fought tooth and nail against us, we very likely would have already completed the permit appeal process by now? Seventh, while the existing bridge is not in good shape, it remains structurally sound and to my knowledge the very occasional draw bridge sticking has not caused anyone on the Island [including the Baldwins] to experience any public health or safety service delays - and on that score, I've never met a NCDOT who could not fix a problem like that should it become necessary in the interim.

Most importantly, the Baldwins and the Batsons repeatedly and consistently have emphasized to NCDOT and the CAMA regulators that the very real adverse environmental impact problems that they have documented ARE FIXABLE. If NCDOT will come down from its high horse and really work with us, we can get this all resolved in time for NCDOT's contractors to get back to work this Fall, after expiration of the "marine life moratorium" that is imposed on ALL eastern NC bridge projects from April through September (I personally watched that required moratorium slow down not one, but TWO major New Bern bridge projects for many years, to the great detriment of downtown New Bern).

In conclusion, this is not about Islanders versus off-Islanders, nor is it about good guys versus bad guys. It's about getting this project right before it is too late, because once a new bridge gets built, everyone will have to live with the resulting impacts for another 50+ years . . . Food for thought . . .

Clark Wright

Davis Hartman Wright

New Bern, NC

Welcome to the discussion.

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