Thursday, April 05, 2007

Smokies North Shore "Road to Nowhere" may be a dead issue

Congressional members from both North Carolina and Tennessee have asked to end the long dispute over the building of a road promised to Swain County North Carolina in 1943.

For the most part, only local Smoky mountain residents are aware of this controversial issue that has divided resident for years. If this road was constructed it would have cost at least $600 million of federal monies and its continued upkeep and negative environmental impacts would have been a never ending burden to the National Park Service as well as the flora and fauna of the Great Smoky Mountains National park.

Fontana Dam

When the Fontana Dam was built in the 1940s the existing road in the area was flooded and in 1943 the federal government made a commitment to Swain County to replace the flooded road. In 1946 the United States Supreme Court ruled that the federal government could in fact satisfy the commitment to Swain County North Carolina in ways other than the replacement of the road.

In 1972 the construction of the road was halted even though Congress provided the funding as the excessive construction costs, environment concerns in regard to the roads construction as well as the continued impact of the additional traffic to the area were clearly not in the best interests of US citizens, local and federal government, and the environmental and cultural resources of the national park.

When the damn was built, access other than by boat was cut off to certain areas of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Families who historically lived in area that became part of the national park no longer were able to visit their ancestors in the 26 cemeteries that became landlocked. To compensate for this Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials would ferry approximately 1,200 residents a year across Fontana Lake in order to these visit cemeteries on designated days.

Fontana Dam Top

Now Secretary Dirk Kempthorne has been approached by no less than 17 members of congress from North Carolina and Tennessee to agree to a cash settlement of $52 million within 90 days for Swain County and end the longtime dispute over whether the road should be finished. It is expected that Secretary Dirk Kempthorne will respond to the members of Congress before June.

The congressional members are only echoing the vast majority of opinions and the National parks department has received more than 75,000 comments on the draft Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed road.

Don Barger, Southeast regional director of National Parks Conservation Association commented "This is the first time we've had this level of support for this decision...This part of Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the wrong place for development"

What will Swain County do with the settlement? The officials would save the principal and use the estimated $2.5 million in interest it would generate each year to help improve both the Swain County's schools and public safety.

We feel as though this is a strong win for everyone. This is the most pristine area of the national park and this hidden jewel offers benefits for the occupants of the park as well as the few lucky visitors who know about and visit this area of the Great Smoky Mountains national park.

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