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WFAE reporter David Boraks explores how the way we live influences climate change and its impact across the Carolinas. You also can read additional national and international climate news.

Appeal to halt Outer Banks bridge cites lack of need, rising seas

The proposed $500 million Mid-Currituck Bridge would link the mainland with the Outer Banks near Kitty Hawk.
The proposed $500 million Mid-Currituck Bridge would link the mainland with the Outer Banks near Kitty Hawk.

Environmental and citizens groups have filed a federal court appeal in hopes of stopping a half-billion-dollar bridge proposed at North Carolina's Outer Banks, citing sea level rise as an argument.

The seven-mile Mid-Currituck Bridge would cross Currituck Sound between the mainland and the Outer Banks, near the town of Corolla.

A lower court in December threw out a lawsuit by the North Carolina Wildlife Federation and residents opposed to the project, including No Mid-Currituck Bridge-Concerned Citizens and Visitors Opposed to the Mid-Currituck Bridge. They're now appealing to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia.

The groups say the project is not needed and that transportation officials used a 2012 environmental impact statement and other outdated information and never shared newer information with the public.

"What we say is that the law requires the public to be provided with updated information about costs, about alternatives, about sea level rise, before the agency can move forward with this project," said Kym Hunter, a lawyer with the Southern Environmental Law Center who represents the groups. "The Court of Appeals will look at this case completely anew, and we feel very confident about it."

The suit names the N.C. Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration as defendants. A spokesperson for the state department declined to comment, saying in a statement:

"The NC Turnpike Authority has received the Notice of Appeal. While we do not typically comment on active litigation, the NC Turnpike Authority and Department of Transportation are evaluating next steps as we work through the legal proceedings."

The project includes a second bridge over the nearby Maple Swamp. The groups argue that the project area will eventually be underwater because of sea level rise, intense storms and flooding.

"This whole area of the Outer Banks is a shifting barrier island," Hunter said. "This bridge would last for at least 50 years. When you look that far in the future — and you don't even need to go that far — you see that a lot of the roadways which would be leading up to the bridge, or the areas that the bridge would serve, are going to be dramatically impacted by flooding. And so those are all analyses that really need to be looked at when you're thinking about, is this a good fiscal investment for North Carolina?"

NCDOT says on the project website that the bridge would help reduce traffic in an area currently served only by the Wright Memorial Bridge. That span carries U.S. 158 over Currituck Sound to Kitty Hawk on the Outer Banks. NCDOT also says it would improve hurricane evacuation times.

NCDOT says the bridge could begin construction as early as 2025. It still needs key permits before work can begin.

The state's current plan is to pay for the bridge with tolls, bonds and state and federal funds.

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David Boraks is a veteran journalist who covers climate change for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.