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Eastern

Finding deeds could cut road cost in half

Toiling away on a state road-construction project, Beth Smyre and her team uncovered some long-buried paperwork that could make a winning lottery ticket look penny ante. Because of it, taxpayers might have to pay about half the estimated $1.1 billion they otherwise would have to spend on a new route for storm-battered N.C. 12.

Government officials have been debating for 18 years about how to replace the crumbling Herbert C. Bonner Bridge over Oregon Inlet and preserve highway access for most of the more than 5 million Outer Banks visitors a year. Last year, federal administrators told Smyre, the state project engineer, to double-check rights of way.

Digging through archives at UNC Chapel Hill, Smyre’s team found deeds from the ’50s that gave road builders more leeway in routing N.C. 12 through the sensitive Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. Previously, they thought they were restricted to a 100-foot corridor near the shoreline, the present route. But with rising seas and erosion, the shore is getting closer to the highway each year. Sand frequently washes and drifts over it, blocking access.

The newly discovered deeds, however, will allow planners to move the highway farther from the beach and closer to Pamlico Sound. An earlier plan anticipated the ocean increasingly breaching the narrow island, forcing phased construction of a series of causeways over new inlets. But as sea level rose, those causeways would have increasingly been exposed to open ocean. One option called for building a 17.5-mile bridge around the Pea Island refuge through the sound. Like the causeway option, that would have cost more than $1 billion — possibly $1.5 billion.

Now planners can contemplate a route without the causeways, except for a three-mile bridge over the sound just north of Rodanthe, where the island is particularly narrow and vulnerable to erosion. “Obviously, we could have huge cost savings,” Smyre says, though she warns that snags could still develop. “The state will have to work with a lot of other groups and agencies to make sure this is the option we really want to go with.”

If so, she says, contracts could be let in February 2010. Work would take three years or more, but nature will win eventually. Highway department maps show much of the island under water by 2050.

ROCKY POINTCoty will close its factory here next year and eliminate about 420 jobs — part of an effort to consolidate production. By the end of this year, the New York cosmetics maker also will shut a packaging plant that employs about 90 in Leland.

ROCKY MOUNTBarcalounger Home will close its factory and move headquarters to Martinsville, Va., by September, eliminating 140 local jobs. It’s owned by Los Angeles-based Hancock Park Associates, which has another subsidiary based in Martinsville.

WILMINGTONPharmaceutical Product Development hired David Grange as CEO. He replaces founder Fred Eshelman, 61, who will stay with the drug tester as chairman. Grange, 60, is a former Army brigadier general who has been on the company’s board since 2003.

WILMINGTONMeadWestvaco plans to close its factory here by August, putting 105 out of work. The Richmond, Va.-based packaging maker will move its equipment to a plant in Lanette, Ala.

FAYETTEVILLEClear Path Recycling will build a plant for processing plastic bottles that will open early next year and employ 100. The company is a joint venture of Charlotte-based DAK Americas and Shaw Industries Group of Dalton, Ga.

KINSTONElectrolux is spending $55 million to add a line of low-end dishwashers. The Swedish company says it may recall 100 workers recently laid off. It employs 785 here.

TARBORO — MailSouth, a direct-mail company based in Helena, Ala., bought Saving Source Direct from Atlanta-based Cox Enterprises. It will shutter Saving Source, idling about 70, as soon as it can shift production to Alabama.

WHITEVILLE — In August, New York-based Nice Blends will open a food-processing plant that will employ 54 within three years. It will make sweet-potato fries and pies, fried-chicken breading and salt and pepper packets.