For being just 3.3 miles in length, the improve-or-don’t-improve Needmore Road debate has generated reams of comment.
Try 772 signatures on a petition supporting some type of paving or resurfacing. And at least 66 written comments sent in to the N.C. Department of Transportation (public comment on the issue closed last week). This on top of a two-hour public hearing which 100 or so people attended, and a smaller information session in Macon County, sponsored by an environmental group, which drew about 30.
The reason? Needmore Road cuts through the Needmore Game Lands, located in Macon and Swain counties. The 4,400-acre tract was protected after a coalition of environmentalists, hunters, local residents and others saved it from development after raising $19 million to buy the land from Duke Power.
What’s at stake? Whether to pave and widen this gravel section of Needmore Road to a minimum of 18 feet, with construction work on the roadway’s shoulders, as endorsed by the transportation department.
All of the major environmental and conservation groups in the region have endorsed paving, citing protections to the Little Tennessee River, which is beside the road and is the unfortunate beneficiary of dust and sedimentation. The groups have stopped well short, however, of endorsing the road widening as proposed. That would involve cutting into and removing acidic rock, which carries an inherent danger to the environment and, particularly, to the nearby river they want to protect.
Macon County commissioners have asked state transportation department officials to hold a public hearing in their county — the previous one held was in Swain.
Julia Merchant, a spokesperson for the department, said a decision on the request is in the works.
Additionally, “a post-hearing meeting is scheduled for Nov. 30 to review every comment received and (to) make a decision about what the next steps are,” she said.