Meadows still pushing for North Shore funds
While Swain County pushes forward with a lawsuit against the federal government to collect $38.2 million it’s owed in settlement money, U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows, R-Asheville, said he’s still pursuing the money on his end as well.
The $38.2 million is the remaining amount Swain leaders claim the county is owed according to a 2010 settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Interior for failing to rebuild the North Shore Road from Bryson City to Tennessee. The road was flooded during World War II in order to build Fontana Dam, and the federal government promised to construct a new road — but it was never completed.
Swain County received the first $12.8 million installment after the settlement was reached, but payments haven’t been allocated in the federal budget since then.
Swain County commissioners and legislators in Raleigh and Washington, D.C., have been fighting the federal government for years trying to recoup the rest of the money, but they haven’t gotten far.
During a recent conference call with Meadows, he was asked about the setbacks with the new administration and getting the funds allocated for Swain County.
“I can tell you from a budget standpoint when they were working on that, this was not something that made it probably into the top 50 in terms of priorities in terms of the budget,” he said.
State Rep. Mike Clampitt, R-Bryson City, filed House Bill 260 back in March in an effort to recoup the $38.2 million for his home county. Clampitt’s proposed legislation directed Attorney General Josh Stein to investigate legal methods available to Swain County and the state to ensure the federal government holds up its end of the bargain. It passed the House but didn’t make it out of the Senate.
Even with the obstacles and Washington red tape as Meadows often refers to it, he said he hasn’t given up on getting what is rightfully owed to the struggling county in his district.
“They were working on a very short time frame, and without pre-empting anything I can tell you that I’ve had probably four very, very substantial and encouraging conversations in the last 30 to 45 days as it relates to North Shore funding and I’m optimistic that that particular issue that I worked on with Congressman Schuler — it was his last thing and my first thing — that the efforts of both of us will provide some real fruit in the near term,” Meadows said.
After making their annual trip to D.C. last year to lobby their congressmen, Swain commissioners decided they had little options left and time was running out. If the county doesn’t get its money by 2020 when the settlement agreement expires, then they could have no recourse.
With encouragement from Meadows and other North Carolina congressmen, the county filed a lawsuit against the Department of Interior for breach of contract. The county hired Attorney Douglas P. Wheeler and the law firm of Hogan Lovells in Washington, D.C., to handle the case.
A federal judge dismissed the case in May stating that a breach of contract has not occurred since the settlement agreement doesn’t expire until 2020. Swain County Manager Kevin King said the county planned to file the same complaint again in the same federal court and ask them to consider several case laws that weren’t looked at the first time.