Hatteras residents mount challenge to Basnight name change
With the State Board of Transportation slated to vote on the matter on March 7, a group of Hatteras Island residents have launched a full-fledged protest campaign to prevent the Bonner Bridge replacement from being named after former State Senator Marc Basnight.
A key weapon in that fight is the Keep it Bonner Facebook page that was launched on Feb. 8 and includes a poll designed to solicit public opinion on naming the bridge. As of Feb. 18, it says that 2,100 votes were cast to keep the Bonner name on the new facility, with 244 favoring the Basnight option.
"This is a fireball," said Danny Couch, the Dare County Commissioner who represents Hatteras Island. "Hatteras Island residents are very vocal and very active and that's a good thing. There's a lot of respect for Senator Basnight and that's never been the question. But they're not for changing the name. This bridge is about as close to a living, breathing thing as you're going to have when it comes to infrastructure.”
Those opposing renaming the bridge for Basnight cite a number of factors, including what they say was a misleading survey on the Dare County website that the Dare commissioners cited when explaining their decision to support the name change. But their protest also seems to reflect the sentiment that their voices don’t count on a matter as vital as their transportation lifeline.
Keep It Bonner spokesman Jayson Collier spoke of the Hatteras residents' "frustrated feeling...that we don't count. People don't care what we have to say on the issue."
Collier added that the issue is not so much about keeping the Bonner name on the bridge as it is about not changing it. While acknowledging Basnight’s “strong career” and significant contributions to the county, he added that "for whatever reason, there's incredibly strong sentiment on the island that they don't want it renamed after Mr. Basnight” and that local residents don't see "anything compelling" to justify a name change.
The effort to name the bridge after the influential state senator began with a January proposal from County Commissioner Ervin Bateman. The county then posted a submission form on its website asking for Dare residents to suggest names for the bridge. At the commissioners’ Feb. 4 meeting, it was reported that the result of the survey was 309 "hits" for Basnight and 266 for Bonner, with other options getting fewer votes.
That same day, the seven-member Dare Board of Commissioners voted by a narrow 3-2 margin to approve the Basnight name, with two members not voting and Couch and Commissioner Steve House voting against the measure. Although NCDOT had said that an application for a new bridge name required a unanimous vote by the local government, the commissioners’ split resolution was sent to the state.
Two days later, the Board of Transportation’s Bridge and Ferry Naming Committee recommended that the full board approve the Basnight designation. That full transportation board will vote at its next meeting on March 7.
At the Feb. 4 Dare Commissioners meeting, several commissioners who supported the Basnight name change, including Chairman Bob Woodard and Vice Chair Wally Overman, cited the results of the county’s online survey in saying they wanted to follow the will of the people on the issue. In the wake of that vote, several other Dare County municipalities also passed resolutions in support of naming the bridge after Basnight.
But that county survey itself has become a serious bone of contention.
"I am disgusted," said Linda Browning, a 40-year resident of Frisco. "The poll that Dare County put out was very ill publicized. Had I not been on Facebook, I would not have known about it."
Pointing to the numbers of votes recorded on the county survey, Browning said: "The whole poll garnered a total of eight hundred and twenty votes. That represents the entire county? The entire Hatteras Island? I would've thought that the commissioners would have looked at that and said, 'There's something wrong with this poll. Maybe we haven't gotten it out to enough people.'"
For his part, Collier asserted that the Dare poll should have boiled down the issue to two options for the sake of clarity: "Do you want to keep it Bonner or change it to Marc Basnight? Those were really the only two options."
In an interview with the Sentinel, Commissioners Chairman Woodard said, “I don’t care to comment” on Hatteras residents’ charges that the county poll was misleading and did not make it clear people were officially voting for the bridge name.
Woodard also reiterated previous statements that "we had an official site that people could go to and that was made known to the public," noting that several media outlets had publicized the site. “That's our official poll and we had to honor our official poll. And now it's out of our hands and before the board of transportation. The ball is in their court."
Keep it Bonner supporter Melodi Gray Schwartz told the Sentinel that she was concerned about a conflict of interest if Board of Transportation District 1 Representative Allen Moran casts a vote on March 7 because he is Marc Basnight's son-in-law.
Contacted by the Sentinel, Moran said, "As you know, I am Marc’s son-in-law...so this would cause a conflict of interest. Thus I will be recusing myself from the vote on March 7th."
Meanwhile, a release posted on the Keep It Bonner Facebook page on Feb. 18 asks state officials to reject the name change request.
"We're calling on the governor and his appointed board of transportation to reconsider the path they're on," Collier explained, adding that, "Given the voices raised on Hatteras Island and the fact that the support for renaming it just isn't there," it's their hope that the governor and his board will ask, "Is this really something we want to proceed with?"