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Wednesday, 17 February 2010 17:10

Making sure Swain County gets its due

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The cash settlement now signed and sealed for Swain County in lieu of building the North Shore Road is a good thing, right?

Well, it’s a good thing only if the entire $52 million comes through, and that’s something that this newspaper, the rest of the media in this region, and the leaders who have put their names on this document need to make sure happens.

I’m in the camp of those who have been saying for years that the settlement was among the best of the available options. A real road along the north shore of Fontana Lake just doesn’t make sense, not today. When that promise was made, the idea of protecting wilderness areas was just taking root. The recent Ken Burns documentary about the national parks explained in detail how the national park movement started, fermented, then took off.

Now, six decades later, this area on the lake’s shore is touted by many as the largest wilderness area in the eastern United States. There is no way anyone besides the relatives of those forcibly moved from the land could want this road built.

For what it’s worth, I personally favored another, more expensive option. I think the park service should have extended the road by a mile or so and then built a visitor center at its terminus explaining the history of the former logging and mining villages in the area, the promises made to those who left, and how the controversy ended. This, along with $52 million for Swain County, would have been a better outcome.

But this is settlement is what we have, and there is more than a little irony in the new agreement. Once again Swain County residents are given a promise — $52 million — and are asked to trust in the federal government that it will be fulfilled. I’m more than just a little worried, especially given the nation’s budget woes, the capriciousness of political leaders everywhere, and the strong current of partisan warfare that now engulfs Washington. What Rep. Heath Shuler and President Obama’s minions promise may mean nothing to the next set of elected officials who take office.

There is another “catch” in this agreement that doesn’t involve the federal government. The state is going to hold the money in a trust account so the principal can’t be touched, and Swain will get the interest. Again, another government entity that was part of the original agreement is going to be in line ahead of Swain to actually control the money. When the budget gets tight, those dollars are going to look more like filet mignon than a sacred cow. North Carolina, indeed, has a recent history of withholding money from counties and towns that, by its own statutes, didn’t belong to the state.

Right now, Swain is to get $12.8 million. The rest is to come in over the next 10 years, at the rate of about $4 million a year.

I’m confident that Swain County is going to get this money, but I’m also confident that there will be some greedy hands trying to grab some of it in the coming decade. It never hurts to prepare for battle.

•••

There is no more deserving Main Street Champion than former Waynesville Mayor Henry Foy, who was honored with this award during the recent Main Street North Carolina banquet.

Foy, who served as mayor of Waynesville until 2008, was for decades the face of a town that underwent a dramatic revival under his leadership. Waynesville’s downtown is often held up as a model, and Foy is one of those responsible for its success.

For years, he supported efforts to revitalize the downtown area and never missed an important event that would bring publicity or development. Foy, who still lives a little more than a block from Main Street, was an elected official for 26 years and mayor for 16.

A well-deserved award if ever there was one.

(Scott McLeod can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. )

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