Settlement for North Shore Road will bring $52 million to Swain County

In a long-sought settlement, the National Park Service will pay Swain County $52 million, approximating today’s cost of a county road that was flooded in the 1940s to make Fontana Lake. The announcement came from Rep. Heath Shuler’s office. Swain County commissioners are expected to accept the settlement, which dates back to a 1943 agreement between the federal government and local officials. Environmental and citizen groups that have long argued for settlement say it will close the decades-long fight to stop a proposed road through the most remote, wild area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

“Today’s announcement is the tipping point on the North Shore Road story — the resolution of an historical wrong in Swain County, and protection of the park’s most wild, remote area for the future,” said D.J. Gerken, attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center. “It’s also a win for American taxpayers, since the road would have cost several times more than this settlement.”

Sierra Club spokesperson Ted Snyder adds, “The Sierra Club has been fighting the disastrous North Shore Road proposal since the late 1960s.”

Back then the National Park Service began building a replacement road for Swain County along the north shore of the lake but abandoned the project just seven miles into it, due to severe erosion and acidic runoff that wiped out fisheries in several streams. For decades, a number of county residents pushed for completion of what came to be known in its incomplete state as “the Road to Nowhere,” although the agency, the governors of North Carolina and Tennessee, and the Swain County Commission all rejected the project on environmental and economic grounds, favoring a cash settlement with the county.

“This settlement will bring much-needed resources to Swain County for decades to come,” Congressman Shuler said in a release from his office. “The interest on these funds alone will greatly increase Swain’s annual budget and will help the commissioners in their efforts to create jobs, invest in Swain County schools, and improve the county’s infrastructure.”

“The wildest region of the park will stay wild, and future generations will be able to experience its isolation and grandeur,” said Don Barger, senior director, Southeast Regional Office, National Parks Conservation Association in a statement.

A draft of the agreement has been sent to Swain County commissioners, who will likely vote to officially accept it at a special meeting on Friday, Feb. 5. On Saturday, Feb. 6, U.S. Secretary of Interior, Ken Salazar, plans to be in Swain County for an official signing of the agreement at the Bryson City town square in front of the old courthouse.

According to Shuler’s office, the money will be deposited in a specially protected trust account with the North Carolina State Treasurer who will disperse annual interest payments to Swain County. Already, $4 million has been authorized for transfer into the trust. Within 120 days of the signing, another $8.8 million will be added, with an additional $4 million allocated in the president’s 2011 budget, which outlines the first of 10 annual payments that complete the settlement. These initial amounts alone will provide an annual return of approximately $1 million going to Swain County forever, say representatives of Citizens for the Economic Future of Swain County.

Dale Ditmanson, Superintendent of the Great Smokey Mountain National Park, has stated the Park Service will continue to provide transportation to annual cemetery “decoration days” and tell their stories through exhibits and programs.

Photos by Danny Bernstein.


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About Margaret Williams
Editor Margaret Williams first wrote for Xpress in 1994. An Alabama native, she has lived in Western North Carolina since 1987 and completed her Masters of Liberal Arts & Sciences from UNC-Asheville in 2016. Follow me @mvwilliams

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5 thoughts on “Settlement for North Shore Road will bring $52 million to Swain County

  1. Piffy!

    What a ridiculous waste.

    I guess an ideology of Fiscal Conservation doesn’t apply when you are to be the recipient of Federal funds.

    You lost access to a cemetery? The fed had an agreement with you? Gosh, you should talk to the folks up at Cherokee.

  2. Thomas Todd

    The fact that former Congressman Charles Taylor was for the buddy-boy contracts road to nowhere and Heath Shuler was for Swain County and citizens getting the road-money is beyond telling. Its the difference in government for business vs. government for people – and I am shocked that it appears (for now) the people won on this one. Consider also that Swain County is about 80% public lands, leaving 20% of the land for tax base…perhaps now the county can wisely market and develop attracting hunters, fishermen, and recreationalists, vacationers, etc. and turn this into an asset.

    One thing is clear – the road to nowhere WAS NOT going to provide any serious economic stimulus except for Taylor’s buddies earth-moving contracts…and a few gallons of gas, twinkies & cokes at the local convenience stores – woo hoo. The trick now will be for Swain Co to wisely use this money – which I’m happy for them to have – instead of blowing it. Think about it – and consider hiring a super sharp marketing team to polish this dusty lamp you have there and get revenue coming in while protecting the very thing people want in your county – some peace & quiet and time in the woods & rivers in Gods glorious mountsin

  3. West Asheville

    Swain county is not capable of spending this money in a responsible manner nor do they deserve it. It should be given to the state. Swain will waste it on hookers and cocaine.

  4. Piffy!

    interesting to note that thomas todd defines ‘the people’ as a select few in swayne county, and not ‘the people’ who’s tax dollars are being given way for basically no good reason.

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