North Shore Road money should not be held up

To the Editor:

I commend Becky Johnson and The Smoky Mountain News for providing the facts to its readers regarding the non-payment of the Settlement of 2010. It is a bad situation.

By all appearances the National Park Service is going out of its way not to pay Swain County. In 2011 and 2012 Rep. Heath Shuler, D-Waynesville, got $4 million appropriated by Congress each year. In 2011 NPS stalled paying until the money was rescinded as part of the budget cuts Democrats and Republicans agreed to.

Now they are stalling again. If it is not paid to Swain this time it will be spent for something else. The project list that specifically designated Swain County disappeared from the legislation and NPS got a lump sum identified only as “construction”. They have insisted all along that Swain’s payments be put in the construction account. Their budget request for 2013 does not include any money for Swain County.

I have requested a meeting with Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar about this. Several of us heard him give his strong commitment to seeing that Swain County was paid. His commitment obviously is not shared by the National Park Service. Rep. Shuler, Sen. Richard Burr and Sen. Kay Hagan have been invited to attend this meeting, if it happens. Salazar has not agreed to meet with us yet, but I’m hopeful. He can direct the NPS to make the payment.

The position taken by NPS is irrelevant. There may not be specific legislation for the payments that can be pointed to that says “authorized.” The Settlement Agreement signed by Salazar, $4 million paid up front before the agreement, and $8.8 million paid upon signing of the agreement demonstrate in fact authorization by the administration and Congress.

Moreover, authorization is not required. Every year Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has a press conference detailing billions of dollars appropriated and spent that were not “authorized.”

The Senate and the House operate differently. Each makes rules binding itself to certain procedural requirements they should follow in deciding how to spend money. According to the Harvard School of Law, when Congress violates one of its own rules, someone in Congress must challenge it, get that challenge voted on and win the challenge. This has to happen at the time of the appropriation.  Otherwise the appropriation is legal whether or not authorized. The appropriation is the authorization. The proof that the appropriation was legal is that the money has been transferred to NPS.  

On top of that, one Congress cannot bind a later Congress with these rules. That’s why we see Sen. McCain railing about it. He cannot get Congress to uphold his objections so he goes public.

Please notice who it is that must raise the objection. It has to be a member of Congress, not an employee of NPS. The money for Swain was not objected to or challenged by anyone in Congress. It is inappropriate now for someone at NPS to wave that flag. Actually they do not have the standing to make the issue.

Rep. Shuler, Sen. Burr and Sen. Hagan are all aware of this issue and in varying degrees all trying to help us. Some of us thought that this Settlement Agreement could end nearly 70 years of animosity between NPS and Swain County and could be the turning point for a new era of cooperation and good relations. Now it looks as if the animosity from the past will continue into future generations. Hopefully we’ll get the meeting with Sec. Salazar, all our congressional delegation will attend, he will order the payment and take appropriate corrective measures at NPS. We are investigating what legal recourse is possible, if any.

Thanks again to The Smoky Mountain News for their careful investigation and accurate reporting on this situation.

Leonard Winchester

Chairman, Citizens for the Economic Future of Swain County

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