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Judge Tosses Lawsuit Challenging New North Carolina Bridge


NEW BERN, N.C. (AP) — A federal judge has dismissed a challenge by residents and property owners to a proposed bridge at the North Carolina Outer Banks.

News outlets report the 46-page decision by U.S. District Court Judge Louise Flanagan on Monday clears the way for construction of the 2.4-mile (3.9-kilometer) bridge over Pamlico Sound.

Save Our Sound OBX argued the N.C. Department of Transportation backed a "jug handle" bridge design without considering environmental consequences, feasible alternatives or the effects on historically significant properties. The group also argued settlement of a lawsuit over the Bonner Bridge led the department not to fully consider the options.

The News & Observer of Raleigh reports NCDOT was joined in defending the bridge by two environmental groups, the Defenders of Wildlife and the National Wildlife Refuge Association. Those two groups were represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center, which had sued the department to try to stop the currently under construction Bonner Bridge replacement bridge over Oregon Inlet, north of the wildlife refuge.

Flanagan said engineers tried to minimize impacts on the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge and on Rodanthe. The proposed bridge would be built between the refuge and the town.

Environmental groups had pushed for a 17-mile (27-kilometer) bridge over the inlet and around the refuge, but transportation officials said it would be too costly. Instead, along with building the Bonner Bridge, NCDOT agreed to consider building the jug handle bridge at the southern end of the refuge, allowing it to close a part of N.C. 12 through the refuge that is susceptible to ocean overwash during storms.

The Rodanthe bridge would require taking 2.79 acres (1.1 hectare) of refuge land, but also return and restore 19.27 acres (7.8 hectare) where part of N.C. 12 would be removed. It's scheduled for completion in late 2020.