Contact: Bonnie Strawser - 252-473-1131
September 26, 2011
Bryant Seeks to Clarify USFWS Actions to Support the Re-establishment of Public Access to Hatteras Island
"There has been some obvious confusion about the role of the refuge in NC Highway 12 repairs, and there have been a lot of rumors about Fish and Wildlife slowing down the repair process. I want to set the record straight," said Mike Bryant, Project Leader for the NC Coastal Plain National Wildlife Refuge Complex, which includes Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. "Refuge management has always permitted emergency actions by the NC Department of Transportation to re-establish access and has never caused delay in restoring the highway after a storm. The current situation is not an exception to that documented history. We have been there since the first meeting, and we have given immediate approval to every request the DOT has made for emergency road repairs."
In late August, Hurricane Irene breached NC Highway 12 on Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. Hatteras Island residents, businesses and visitors are suffering the loss of this transportation route and for the time being depend on emergency ferry service. Bryant explained, "These folks and the elected officials representing them are expressing frustration in the news and through social media forums. In the absence of facts, a lot of rumors are being passed around. We'd like to help provide some factual information."
From the beginning U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff has been on the scene helping NCDOT. Local Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge staff have been working side-by- side with NCDOT in a timely and cooperative manner meeting the needs of the NCDOT in their efforts to plan and implement repairs to NC Highway 12 so they can re-establish the transportation corridor on Hatteras Island. Immediately after Hurricane Irene passed, Refuge Manager Mike Bryant, Refuge Biologist Dennis Stewart, and Raleigh Ecological Services Supervisor Pete Benjamin communicated with NCDOT and other agencies to facilitate NCDOT's planning efforts. Mike Bryant gave immediate verbal approval for NCDOT to do whatever work was necessary to repair NC Highway 12 within their existing highway right-of-way on Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, as well as approval to mine sand from behind the terminal groin on the Refuge, stage equipment, and perform work outside the existing highway right-of-way to facilitate quick repairs. Three emergency special use permits have been prepared and issued to NCDOT for NC Highway 12 repair work.
"Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge is closed to all public entry, because the highway is closed and under emergency repair - it's a construction zone where many pieces of heavy equipment and large vehicles are in constant motion," continued Bryant. "It would be unsafe and cause delay in getting the emergency repairs done if the public were allowed to enter - the closure is for public safety and to facilitate the repair work. Since the highway is closed, so is the Refuge." Until the highway is re-opened, unauthorized persons who venture onto the Refuge are subject to prosecution for trespassing in a closed area on this National Wildlife Refuge.
Access to the land within NCDOT's highway right-of-way and to Refuge lands that have been authorized under Special Use Permit for NCDOT's use are under the control of the NCDOT. NCDOT is responsible for authorizing and controlling access for the purpose of repairing the highway and for public safety in these areas. Any persons authorized access by NCDOT or their contractors must remain within the right-of-way or other areas authorized by permits. Departure from these areas under NCDOT authority is considered trespass and is subject to prosecution.
The Headquarters building that was lost in the new inlet was used to store refuge signs and other government property. Bryant seeks community help in collecting as much of the property as possible. "If you find anything that is labeled or identifiable in other ways as government property, please return it to the refuge." It is a violation of federal law to possess these items.
The refuge has received numerous calls concerning the safety of the Bonner Bridge, expressing concern over rumored impacts to the bridge from the hurricane. Bob Capehart, Construction Engineer for NCDOT Division 1, explained the current status of the Bonner Bridge. "The work going on at Bonner Bridge was underway prior to Hurricane Irene and is part of ongoing efforts to maintain safe passage over Oregon Inlet. No damage to the bridge occurred from the hurricane. Bonner Bridge is only closed to the public while construction activities continue re-establishing the NC 12 connection through Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge."