BRADENTON, Fla. — Calling it a "stall tactic," the North Carolina Department of Transportation said that environmentalists appealed a federal judge's ruling that would have allowed construction to begin on the Bonner Bridge replacement project.

In September, the judge ruled that state and federal officials followed proper procedures for replacing the 50-year-old bridge over the Oregon Inlet in the Outer Banks of the state.

The Southern Environmental Law Center filed for a review of the lower court ruling Tuesday with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Va. SELC is representing the Defenders of Wildlife and National Wildlife Refuge.

"The additional stall tactics of the SELC continue to put a strain on taxpayer money and our ability to keep this vital lifeline open for the people of eastern North Carolina and the millions of visitors who travel to the area each year," said a statement by NCDOT Secretary Tony Tata. "As the federal judge's ruling confirmed last month, NCDOT cares about the economy, the environmental impact, and the people in all that we do."

The Bonner Bridge stands on borrowed time and is one storm or incident away from having to close permanently, Tata said, repeating previous departmental statements about the condition of the bridge while assuring the public it is safe to drive on.

The Law Center said the appeal was sought before the state commits public resources to build and maintain a "patchwork" of bridges and highway in the Atlantic Ocean's tidal zone and surf.

"Instead of constructing a safe, reliable route that would serve North Carolinians for the next 50 years, NCDOT is pushing a piecemeal plan for NC 12 that ignores the basic problem [that] this stretch of highway continually washes out because the island is eroding out from underneath it," Julie Youngman, senior attorney at the SELC, said in a release. "NCDOT seems determined to send taxpayer money out to sea with the highway, as it predictably washes into the ocean."

The environmental groups also have filed for an administrative hearing challenging the state's permit for the replacement bridge, which is estimated to cost $215.8 million.

State officials have said environmentalists are advocating for a longer, 17-mile-long bridge that would cost as much as $1.15 billion.

Various environmental groups have also challenged two other major North Carolina highway projects in recent years charging that the state and the Federal Highway Administration performed flawed analyses of the planned toll roads. Bonds had already been sold for one of the toll roads when work stopped to perform more studies.

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