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REGIONALREPORT Eastern

Bonner Bridge's toll changes with the seasonclientuploads/Archive_Images/2014/01/eastern-region.jpg

Hatteras Island businesses hope the latest sand to settle under the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge won’t shift for some time. On Dec. 3, N.C. Department of Transportation closed the 50-year-old bridge — which provides the only road access from the northern Outer Banks and mainland to the island via N.C. 12 — after discovering that water had scoured sand from some pilings, compromising the structure’s stability. It reopened 12 days later, after sand dredged from Oregon Inlet had steadied the pilings, but the closing cost Outer Banks communities more than $1.3 million in tourism, Hans Vogelsong says.
 
In 2008, the East Carolina University professor of recreation and leisure studies researched the economic impact of a hypothetical inlet forming on Hatteras Island — one that would wash out N.C. 12 south of the bridge — by subtracting spending by tourists who wouldn’t be able to reach their accommodations. Such an inlet in Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, Vogelsong determined, would have the same effect as closing Bonner Bridge: $3.6 million every day during peak tourism season for Dare County and the Outer Banks.
 
While the bridge was closed, ferries from Stumpy Point to Rodanthe supplemented the one that runs from Hatteras to Ocracoke, but they carried only about 750 vehicles daily, no replacement for the more than 5,000 the bridge handles, Vogelsong says. Faster ferries with more capacity are the best bet for consistent access in the future, he says. “Building a replacement bridge in the same spot is an exercise in futility.” But that’s what DOT plans to spend $215.8 million to do, though legal efforts spearheaded by Southern Environmental Law Center are delaying construction. The Charlottesville, Va.-based nonprofit supports more ferries and a nearly billion-dollar bridge that would skirt Oregon Inlet and the refuge, coming ashore west of Rodanthe (Regional Report, February 2013).
 
While legal proceedings continue, DOT is paying for more repairs. It awarded Orangeburg, S.C.-based Carolina Bridge Co. a $1.6 million contract to build and install 4-foot-tall a-jacks, which resemble the children’s toys. Made of concrete, they will ring ill-supported pilings and, once filled with sandbags, hopefully prevent washouts. That work could take up to 90 days to complete. Unless the sand gets shiftier.

 
 
Briefs
 
FARMVILLE — Natural Blend Vegetable Hydration will invest $12 million over three years to open 
a plant here that will employ as many as 57 workers. Wages will average $38,123, nearly 13% higher than Pitt County’s average. The company, which dehydrates vegetables for use in food products,  
is a subsidiary of Snow Hill-based Ham Produce Co., a sweet-potato farming operation.

AURORA —
As part of an 18% companywide workforce reduction, Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan laid off 85 people here in December. That’s about 10% of the employees at PCS Phosphate, the Canadian company’s local mining and processing operation, which is Beaufort County’s largest employer.

CLINTON —
Tortona, Italy-based Biochemtex will open a biofuel refinery in Sampson County, creating 65 jobs and investing $200 million over three years. The plant, which will begin production in 2016, will make ethanol from wild grasses and other locally grown energy crops. Annual pay will average $47,000, higher than Sampson County’s average of $30,822.