North shore to Nowhere: Controversy countdown or just another chapter?
Opinions on whether to build a 34-mile road through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park seem to be falling into three camps: those who want the road; those who don’t want the road on environmental grounds; and those who think a cash settlement in lieu of the road sounds like a better deal.
Nearly 200 people came to a public hearing in Bryson City last week, and 40 aired their opinions. Some called for the road to be built. Some expressed concerns that the road would ruin the national park and destroy the local environment. Still others were opposed to the road but not necessarily on environmental grounds — it would be better, they said, to get the money the federal government would use to build the road.
The National Park Service is nearing the end of a four-year, $5 million analysis weighing the pros and cons of building the North Shore Road. The public hearing was designed to gather comments on a rough draft of the analysis. The final analysis is due out next year along with the Park Service’s long-anticipated opinion on whether to build the road.
Observers on all sides of the issue have postulated that the Park’s decision will be based on politics rather than the findings in the analysis. U.S. Rep. Charles Taylor, R-Brevard, is an adamant supporter of the road and incidentally controls the Park Service’s budget as chairman of the Department of Interior’s appropriations subcommittee.
Taylor secured $16 million to start building the road four years ago, but law required the Park Service to conduct the analysis first. Only time will tell whether this is truly a final countdown to the end of the 60-year controversy or just another chapter in an unresolved saga.
The deadline for public comment is March 20. To comment, call the park at 865.436.1207 or go to www.NorthShoreRoad.info, where the Park’s analysis can be downloaded.