RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - A unanimous federal appeals court panel is overturning North Carolina's plans to save money by simply replacing a crucial Outer Banks bridge while chunks of the island where traffic passes is threatened by rising waves.

A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday ruled unanimously that a lower court judge was wrong to favor North Carolina's position that construction to replace the Bonner Bridge should start. The federal judge last September allowed an exception to laws protecting a wildlife refuge and now will have to dig more deeply into the case.

Read the ruling here

The dispute centers on a state plan to replicate the existing 2.5-mile bridge across Oregon Inlet at a cost of $216 million. The bridge is the only span connecting the mainland to Hatteras Island.

Statement from Senator Bill Cook (R-District 1):
'I am extremely pleased and thankful of the Fourth Circuit's ruling that upholds N.C. DOT's NEPA permit. This is another step in the right direction to replace the aging Bonner Bridge. The Outer Banks of North Carolina is a place of natural beauty. It is the birthplace of America, birthplace of aviation, and a destination for millions of visitors. About 2.4 million visitors travel from all around the world each year to see the outstanding wildlife and environmental beauty of the Outer Banks,' Sen. Bill Cook (R-District 1) said. 'This 50 year old bridge needs to be replaced now. I hope the Southern Environmental Law Center will now stop their obstructionist behavior and allow the people of the Outer Banks to have a safe and reliable bridge.'

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