Tucked inside the omnibus spending bill passed by Congress late Wednesday night was nearly $6 million for a settlement with Swain County over the North Shore Road, the so-called “Road to Nowhere.”
Environmental groups, including the Southern Environmental Law Center and the National Parks Conservation Association, are hailing the partial settlement as a victory for conservation and thanking Rep. Heath Shuler for his role in obtaining the funding.
The road issue dates to 1943, when Fontana Lake was created to generate hydroelectric power for the nation’s war effort. Residents of the area were forced to move, but through an agreement between Swain County, the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Department of the Interior, were assured they would be given access to family cemeteries via a road along the lake’s northern shore. Their property later became part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The promised road was started but abandoned in the 1960s due to environmental and engineering concerns. Right along, descendants of the displaced mountaineers have lobbied hard for the road, sometimes with support in Washington, sometimes without. This fall, a missing piece in the controversy was set in place when the National Park Service issued a final environmental-impact statement, which recommended a cash settlement with Swain County over building the road.
The sum approved by Congress this week represents only a fraction of the $52 million Swain County asked for in 2003, but conservation groups believe more funds are on the way.
Greg Kidd of the National Parks Conservation Association calls the expected $6 million “a significant step in the right direction for what has been a difficult situation in Swain County.”
— Kent Priestley, staff writer