Shifting Sands and Shifting Strategies: Advocacy Coalitions, Bonner Bridge, and the Future of NC 12 on North Carolina's Outer Banks
Swain, Deanna F
Coastal management decisions are complicated. They involve an array of competing concerns, including environmental, social, economic, recreational, and property interests, and are inherently political. These decisions become even more difficult when interested groups use their political and economic leverage to influence the policy debate. The Bonner Bridge replacement project on North Carolina's Outer Banks is an example of how this blend of politics, science, and competing interests can result in extraordinary complexity. This research project uses a qualitative case study of the Bonner Bridge replacement to explore how a bridge project became more about priorities and values than science and technical feasibility and how interested parties, acting through informal coalitions, strategically worked to shape the policy debate. In the process, we see how the replacement of a single aging bridge required 25 years of planning, four environmental impact statements, an environmental assessment, federal and state lawsuits, and a negotiated settlement before a single piling was put into place. Drawing on the policy process literature, this project applies aspects of the Advocacy Coalition and Narrative Policy Frameworks to a qualitative content analysis of the bridge project over a 25 year period (1990-2015). The analysis tracks the emergence and evolution of two distinct coalitions and compares their use of general and narrative strategies to influence the bridge debate. The project addresses an under-explored area in the Advocacy Coalition Framework literature by focusing on how coalitions act strategically to exploit an internal shock within the policy subsystem and contributes to the literature by exploring the intersection of the two frameworks. The research design addresses three different questions: (1) did the bridge project function as an internal shock; (2) how did the coalitions use narratives and strategies to exploit this shock; and (3) what roles did science and politics play in these narratives and strategies? The context for the case study, including the science of barrier island and inlet migration, the history, economy, and demographics of Hatteras Island, NC, and regulatory and legal considerations, is explored through a detailed case background and chronology. This chronology is used to designate five policy periods within the case study. The source materials are publicly available narratives and comments produced by coalition members and compiled from newspaper accounts, websites, guest newspaper commentaries, letters to the editors, and comments submitted on the various environmental impact statements. These comments were coded, both by hand and using NVivo software, to identify and track the coalitions' key issues and both general and narrative strategies. These strategies and issues are compared between coalitions and tracked over time using the policy phases and case chronology. The analysis shows that the bridge project upset the status quo in the policy subsystem and triggered the emergence of two coalitions. These coalitions took distinctly different views on which issues were most important in the bridge decision and used different general strategies in the debate. Both sides altered their strategies and issues in response to each other and changing circumstances. The coalitions' narrative strategies indicated that they both perceived themselves as "losing" the debate. Finally, the analysis showed that the coalitions focused more on politics than scientific issues in their narratives. These results suggest directions for future research, including refinement of the idea of policy internal shocks (and related concepts), seconding calls for a hierarchy of coalition resources, and the need to develop a more fluid and dynamic understanding of "winning" and "losing" coalitions. While lessons from a single case study are not directly generalizable to other contexts, this project helps to refine aspects of two policy process frameworks. The case also offers insights into the interplay of science and politics and serves as a lesson in how individuals, both within and outside of government, influenced decisions in a high-stakes, high-visibility coastal infrastructure project.
Swain, Deanna F. (July 2017). Shifting Sands and Shifting Strategies: Advocacy Coalitions, Bonner Bridge, and the Future of NC 12 on North Carolina's Outer Banks (Doctoral Dissertation, East Carolina University). Retrieved from the Scholarship. (http://hdl.handle.net/10342/6343.)
Swain, Deanna F. Shifting Sands and Shifting Strategies: Advocacy Coalitions, Bonner Bridge, and the Future of NC 12 on North Carolina's Outer Banks. Doctoral Dissertation. East Carolina University, July 2017. The Scholarship. http://hdl.handle.net/10342/6343. September 30, 2023.
Swain, Deanna F, “Shifting Sands and Shifting Strategies: Advocacy Coalitions, Bonner Bridge, and the Future of NC 12 on North Carolina's Outer Banks” (Doctoral Dissertation., East Carolina University, July 2017).
Swain, Deanna F. Shifting Sands and Shifting Strategies: Advocacy Coalitions, Bonner Bridge, and the Future of NC 12 on North Carolina's Outer Banks [Doctoral Dissertation]. Greenville, NC: East Carolina University; July 2017.
East Carolina University