With endorsements from local governments in Dare County and approval from the state Board of Transportation’s naming committee, it seemed the new bridge over Oregon Inlet that opened to traffic Monday would almost certainly be named for Marc Basnight, the Manteo native and former state Senate leader.
But a growing number of coastal residents are signing on to an effort to give the new bridge the same name as the one it replaces, Herbert C. Bonner. The “KEEP It Bonner” Facebook page has received more than 1,460 likes and prompted several people to write Gov. Roy Cooper and the Board of Transportation urging them not to go with Marc Basnight Bridge.
The backlash doesn’t appear to be fueled by harsh feelings toward Basnight, who represented the area from 1984 until 2011 and fought to have the Bonner Bridge replaced. Nor do people express warm feelings toward Herbert Covington Bonner, the area’s congressman from 1940 until his death in 1965.
Jayson Collier, who created the Facebook page to provide a focus for the grumbling he was hearing and seeing elsewhere, said residents simply don’t see the need to change something that’s so central to their lives.
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“This is probably a great example of change fatigue,” Collier said in an interview. “They know it as the Bonner Bridge. It’s what they’ve always known it as down here. There’s no compelling reason to rename it.”
Collier, a kitchen and bath contractor, lives in Frisco on Hatteras Island, the long, narrow strip of land whose residents largely depend on the bridge for access to the rest of the world. The opposition to changing the bridge’s name is centered on the island, where many residents feel they weren’t given a chance to weigh in by the Dare County board based in Manteo.
“We feel that the local board of commissioners has failed us, and the thousands standing with us, on this matter,” Robert Rinda of Avon wrote to Cooper and Michael Fox, who leads the Board of Transportation. “Thus, I respectfully request that appropriate action be taken at the State level to stop this inappropriate and inconsiderate renaming effort and ‘Keep it Bonner.’”
Rinda and others objecting to the change cite the way it came about. They note that the seven-member Dare County board voted 3-2 to recommend the Basnight name, with one commissioner absent and another not voting. Under state Board of Transportation policy, a road or bridge is named for someone only with unanimous support from local governments.
But the state board’s naming committee decided to make an exception and unanimously recommended Basnight. Town councils in Manteo, Kill Devil Hills and Nags Head also wrote in support of the Basnight name. The full state board is scheduled to vote on the matter March 7.
Fox, who leads both the naming committee and the full Board of Transportation, was not available Monday, said Nicole Meister, a spokeswoman for the board. Meister said the board relies on local recommendations and support for direction in choosing honorary names for roads and bridges. But because Basnight has also been an important figure in statewide politics, the naming committee chose to consider his name for the bridge despite the split vote by Dare County commissioners.
“The board has discretion to make an exception,” Meister said. “And they did that in this case.”
In approving the new name, Dare County board chairman Bob Woodard has cited a survey the county put on its website after one of the commissioners suggested the bridge be named for Basnight. More than 800 people responded, with Basnight receiving 309 votes to the second place Bonner with 266.
But many Hatteras Island residents say the survey was not well-publicized and doesn’t represent a clear mandate from the county’s 36,000 residents. Collier says the KEEP It Bonner Facebook page conducted its own survey that has generated more than 2,500 votes, with, not surprisingly given the platform, about 90 percent choosing Bonner.
The new $252 million bridge opened Monday, after contractors connected N.C. 12 at either end. The old bridge, which opened in 1963, will be demolished, except for a 1,000-foot section at the south end that will remain in place as a pedestrian walkway and possibly a fishing pier. The resolution from Dare County commissioners recommends that surviving piece retain the Bonner name.
N.C. 12 is already named the “Marc Basnight Highway” from Whalebone Junction down the length of Hatteras Island to the ferry dock in Ocracoke Village. If the Board of Transportation approves Basnight for the new bridge, the name would likely come off the highway, in keeping with state policy that prohibits naming more than one bridge, highway or ferry after someone.
Collier said the highway is another reason people don’t want to see the Basnight name on the bridge.
“The majority of people will concede that yes, Marc was a good man. He worked hard for the county and the state,” Collier said. “But he already has miles of highway named after him. ... There’s no shortage of homage paid to Marc Basnight.”