A coalition of Cherokee and Swain County residents have stepped up the pressure on a proposed Duke Energy substation in the vicinity of the sacred Cherokee mothertown, Kituwah.
Last week, a coalition of more than a dozen people filed a formal complaint with the N.C. Utilities Commission asking the regulatory body to halt the project. According to critics, the substation and related transmission lines would mar views of a rural valley between Cherokee and Bryson City and alter the character of the nearby Cherokee ceremonial site.
Natalie Smith, a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, has been an outspoken critic of the substation and has spearheaded a grassroots effort to move it away from Kituwah. Smith is the only named complainant in the case, but says the coalition includes a mix of county residents, property owners, business owners and tribal members.
“This wasn’t started or formulated for the Eastern Band’s interest,” Smith said of the challenge. “It’s for all the citizens of Swain County and all Cherokee people.”
The coalition’s complaint alleges that Duke Energy began work on the substation without state approval required for projects that exceed a certain capacity and that the project will have significant adverse impacts on residents.
Duke Energy spokesperson Jason Walls released a written statement reiterating the company’s willingness to work in conjunction with tribal leaders to resolve the issue.
Duke is considering alternative sites for the substation suggested by the tribe. It is also looking for ways to reduce the visual impact should it stay in its proposed location, Walls said.
Smith expressed her concern that the tribe has not taken any legal measures to stop the project, even after the tribal council authorized legal action in February.
“I’m curious as to exactly why they haven’t, and I suspect that it is politics,” Smith said. “If it proves to be politics, then I think our leaders need a major recalibration of their priorities, because Kituwah is the heart and soul of our people. It’s beyond any individual or political status.”
The utilities commission has the power to issue an immediate injunction on the project pending resolution of the complaint, but the project has already been halted.
Last month, Swain County commissioners passed a moratorium that put a stop to the project for 90 days, enough time for the county to create an ordinance regulating substations and cell towers.