U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and U.S. Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.) announced on Dec. 20 that they were successful in securing a $6 million down payment in the Fiscal Year 2008 Omnibus appropriations bill toward an eventual $52 million cash settlement for the people of Swain County.
The cash settlement is an alternative to construction of a 30-mile road through the Great Smoky Mountain National Park that would replace a road flooded in 1943 by the U.S. Government during WWII to create Fontana Lake. The move displaced nearly a thousand residents and swallowed homes, churches and schools in the community.
Today, homesteads and cemeteries once reachable by the North Shore Road can only be accessed by boat.
The fight over the North Shore Road has spanned generations and attracted national media attention. Some residents of Swain County have long fought for the government to uphold its promise to build the road. The final decision hinged on an agreement involving the Tennessee Valley Authority, the National Park Service, Swain County commissioners and the state of North Carolina. All parties had to come to one consensus — build the road, or compensate the people of Swain County with a cash settlement. In April, the National Park Service became the last party to weigh in in favor of a cash settlement.
“For 64 years the issue of the North Shore Road has divided communities and families. This reserved funding, along with the Park Service’s final EIS, shows that we have finally reached the end of this long journey,” said Shuler.
“A full settlement is a commonsense solution that will protect the integrity of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park while also providing Swain County the resources it needs to invest in job creation and school improvement,” Shuler said in a press release.
The Southern Environmental Law Center, who worked closely with the National Park Service on the issue, released a statement applauding the decision as an important step to protecting the national park.
“With this appropriation for Swain County, everybody wins. Anglers will have some of the best streams in the East to fish, hikers will have some of the best trails and wild country to roam, and local communities will get a tremendous economic boost to make the best choices for the future,” SELC attorney D.J. Gerken said.
Mike Clampitt, the Swain County Republican chairman and outspoken advocate of building the road, expressed his dissatisfaction at the news.
“Any monetary settlement for Swain County does not compensate the access to the veterans and those family members interred on the North Shore,” Clampitt said.
Gerken said in his statement that the park service will continue to provide transportation and access to family cemeteries by sponsoring excursions by boat and ATV.