The North Shore Road would traverse roughly 30 miles of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park outside Bryson City. The park service spent six years and $10 million conducting an environmental, social, economic and cultural analysis of the road to arrive at its decision. The decision was actually announced informally in the spring. The formal announcement, accompanied by the full study, was released last week.
The study concludes that the better option is to give Swain County $52 million in lieu of building the road. Swain County once had a road that traveled from Bryson City west toward Tennessee. But the creation of Fontana Lake in the 1940s flooded the road. The government promised to build it back , but never has. The cash settlement of $52 million would pay back Swain County for the flooded road.
“The monetary settlement would ensure that resources of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Appalachian National Scenic Trail would be unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations. It would fulfill project goals and objectives including the protection of natural, cultural, and recreational resources,” the park service’s decision states.
The park service was forced to study the road after former U.S. Congressman Charles Taylor, R-Brevard, inserted $16 million into the federal budget for road construction. Taylor was unseated by U.S. Rep. Heath Shuler, D-Waynesville, last fall. Shuler has been an advocate of the cash settlement, giving road opponents their first ally in Congress from WNC.
The park service spent $10 million of the $16 million appropriated for the road conducting the study. Shuler has amassed a bi-partisan coalition to earmark the remaining $6 million toward the cash settlement due Swain County.
While Sen. Elizabeth Dole, R-NC, is on board with the cash settlement, Sen. Richard Burr, R-NC, isn’t. Burr cited the lack of consensus among Swain County on the issue.
“Until there is consensus among the local communities to do anything other than build the road, building a road is the only fair option,” Burr said. Carl Mumpower, the first Republican who has announced candidacy for the nomination to run against Shuler next fall, also supports building the road.
“In contrast to Congressman Shuler’s position on the North Shore road, I do not believe that the passage of time, surrender to envirojackers, or indulging Tennessee’s special interests are an authentic foundation for abandoning our word on this federal promise,” Mumpower said.
Many bitter feelings still linger in Swain County over the unbuilt road, especially by those whose homes were confiscated to make the way for lake construction and creation of the national park.
The environmental impact study is on-line at www.northshoreroad.info. Copies are also available for review at the libraries in Bryson City and in Cherokee.
— By Becky Johnson