Road to Nowhere Might End in Congress
Posted December 21, 2007 9:26 a.m. EST
Updated December 21, 2007 6:17 p.m. EST
Bryson City, N.C. — Congress agreed to make a $6 million down payment to settle a 65-year-long fight over a road, but some residents said the money can not compensate for their lost heritage.
Rep. Heath Shuler, a Democrat, and Tennessee Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander said the money was included in a $555 billion federal spending bill approved by Congress late Wednesday. The money is part of an expected $52 million settlement for the government's failure to build a road promised in 1943 in Swain County, which borders Tennessee.
Shuler and Alexander said the $6 million will be held by the National Park Service until a settlement is reached. Other members of Congress from both states also pushed for the funding.
The saga of the Road to Nowhere began in 1943 when residents agreed to give up their land for the war effort. The government flooded that land to build a dam on Fontana Lake. That dam proved vital in helping the government build the atomic bomb in nearby Oak Ridge, Tenn.
"Swain County gave up half of what they had for a war effort, to help end World War II. It done just that," David Monteith, a supporter of building the Road to Nowhere, said.
The government promised to replace a flooded highway, but environmental concerns and high costs halted construction in 1972 after completing just 6 miles our of 30. The roadway, officially named the North Shore Road, would have run through an undeveloped area in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the nation's most visited national park.
"Why would our government not want to keep its word?" Monteith asked.
Money might have been one reason why the National Park Service in May recommend against finishing the road. Completing construction could have cost $600 million.
"Who's gonna build it?" asked Claude Douthit, an opponent of building the Road to Nowhere.
"The road will never be built," added road opponent Luke Hyde.
Instead of fighting for the road to be built, Swain County requested $52 million to settle the issue.
"A cash settlement is the only reasonable thing for the people of Swain County," Hyde said.
"A full settlement is a commonsense solution that will protect the integrity of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, while also providing Swain County the resources it needs to invest in job creation and school improvement," said Shuler, who has pressed for the settlement since he was elected last year to represent western North Carolina.
Alexander added: "For decades we've been working for the right solution for the taxpayers of America, the people of Swain County, and those who love the Great Smoky Mountains. I'm glad this day has finally come."
The National Parks Conservation Association, which also supports a cash settlement with the county, called the $6 million a down payment. The association said the federal government is showing good faith in resolving the dispute permanently.
Montieth said a cash settlement cannot compensate residents for the access to their past that they lost.
The road would have restored overland access to 26 remote cemeteries. The park service has said it will continue ferrying people across Fontana Lake on designated days to visit the grave sites.
"My daddy's grocery store was at Forney's Creek. That's gone. That's underwater," Monteith said. "That's part of my heritage, but it's gone."