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Last remnant of old Bonner Bridge to become a free Outer Banks fishing pier
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Last remnant of old Bonner Bridge to become a free Outer Banks fishing pier

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The remains of old Bonner Bridge will become a 1,046 foot-long free fishing pier by this summer. The newer Basnight Bridge spans Oregon Inlet in the background.

The remains of old Bonner Bridge will become a 1,046 foot-long free fishing pier by this summer. The newer Basnight Bridge spans Oregon Inlet in the background.

The last remnants of an Outer Banks bridge over Oregon Inlet will soon be a fishing pier with no entry charge.

The 1,046-foot-long structure stretches over rapid flowing currents where fresh and saltwater species mingle, making it a popular site for angling. The new Basnight Bridge towers above it.

The state expects to open it to the public this summer.

“There are dozens of very vocal fishermen anxious to get this open,” said Pablo Hernandez, resident engineer with the North Carolina Department of Transportation.

The pier will be safer and more accommodating than the narrow catwalks attached that were popular with anglers, Hernandez said. People had maneuvered around fishing gear and buckets to move along the catwalks. They had to cross N.C. 12 to get to the walkway on the west side of the bridge.

The catwalk is gone. The 28-foot wide former roadbed stands 19 feet above the water with new aluminum railings along each side and at the end. Potholes and joints on the pavement were repaired and leveled to eliminate tripping hazards. A new handicap accessible walkway will lead from the parking lot.

Repairs and improvements cost roughly $500,000.

The pier will not have lighting so that sea turtles that nest on nearby beaches don’t mistake it for moonlight. Artificial light can disorient turtles and disturb nesting habits. The pier will not have running water or fish cleaning stations.

And the pier won’t be for just fishing. The area is dark and serves as a prime place for stargazing.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers needed the old bridge structure, including its deep support piles, to remain in place to help tame the currents, Hernandez said.

Oregon Inlet flowing east and west converges with Davis Slough, a channel rushing north and south, which creates a powerful mix of swirling currents that tend to scour sand from the base of the bridge.

Lee James, 45, of Charlottesville, fished on the Bonner Bridge catwalk with his father and grandfather from childhood. He, his wife, Anne, and two children were there Tuesday fishing along the shore near the bridge.

He caught sheepshead, croaker, spot and sea bass from the catwalk. His wife holds the family record after reeling in a 33-inch striped bass. A framed photo of her holding the fish hangs from the wall in their home.

The new pier’s imminent opening was good news.

“We’ll be back this summer,” he said.

When the Basnight Bridge opened two years ago, the state began to demolish the old Bonner Bridge and closed the catwalk. Crews used the aging span to stage work equipment and temporarily stack demolition material.

The public hoped part of the span could be saved for a fishing platform to replace the catwalk, but turning an old bridge into a pier was challenging.

The state considered but declined to build a new structure that would cost $10 million to $12 million, Hernandez said.

The state had to get approval for the project from the National Marine Fisheries Service. The agency wanted to make sure anglers would seldom snag sea turtles by accident.

The state had to get operation and maintenance agreements with Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge and the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. The land and parking lot at the bridge’s base falls within the refuge. The seashore has stewardship over the inlet.

“We’ve had so many milestones along the way on these bridge projects,” Hernandez said. “It’s hard to believe we’re at this one.”

Jeff Hampton, 757-446-2090, jeff.hampton@pilotonline.com

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