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Macon takes official stand against I-3

By Sarah Kucharski • Staff Writer

The Stop I-3 Coalition received a major boost in its efforts to prevent construction of a new highway that would connect Savannah, Ga., to Knoxville, Tenn., by way of Western North Carolina when Macon County Commissioners on Monday night (Feb. 6) became the first WNC government to pass a resolution against the highway.

Macon’s action adds to the “overwhelming show of support to stop this road,” said Edna Foster, a representative of the Jackson-Macon Alliance and coalition member.

Georgia’s 12th District Republican Congressman Max Burns originally proposed highway construction, giving legislators and local government officials in the highway’s path no notice of his intentions, said Roger Turner, a spokesman for the Stop I-3 Coalition, member of the WNC Alliance and Jackson-Macon County Alliance. Four counties in North Georgia — Habersham, Rabun, Towns and White — already have passed resolutions opposing the highway.

As of yet a route for the highway has not been officially designated, though the road’s name has been changed to the Third Infantry Division Highway, a reflection of its Georgia origins.

In August 2005 Congress appropriated $1.3 million to study the highway — a study said to formulate a process without actually designating a route. Should it be decided that the highway would be built, it most likely would follow the path of least resistance. Macon County’s resolution against the highway may lend weight to either diverting the highway’s path or putting an end to plans for its construction altogether.

“We’re going to be looking at every way that we can possibly look to stop any more funding,” Turner said in an interview Tuesday morning.

Currently, travelers going from Savannah to Knoxville must make the 415-mile trip through connecting highways.

“This route is shorter than any of the possibilities that could be used for I-3,” Turner said.

Construction of the highway would only serve to ruin WNC’s rural environment, making it much like the places many residents moved here to get away from, opponents said. While WNC, and Macon County in particular, is growing and changing that doesn’t mean that residents and leaders have to idly watch it happen, said Larry Stenger, a Macon County Planning Board and coalition member.

“I know she’s not a virgin anymore, but I’ll be darned if I’m going to stand here and watch somebody take advantage of her like this,” Stenger said of his home county.

Macon Commissioner Bob Simpson’s motion to adopt the resolution against the highway was seconded by Commissioner Charlie Leatherman. The motion earned unanimous approval and a round of applause from the packed audience.

Stop I-3 Coalition members hope that Macon’s resolution against the highway will be the first of several. If several WNC counties come out against I-3 — particularly those in the far west such as Cherokee, Clay, Graham, and Swain — the opposition could have an effect on a state level, Turner said.

“It makes it that much more difficult for this to proceed,” Turner said.

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