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Swain to receive remaining settlement funds

The Road to Nowhere has become a popular tourist attraction in Bryson City. File photo The Road to Nowhere has become a popular tourist attraction in Bryson City. File photo

According to an announcement from U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., Swain County will finally receive the remaining $35.2 million owed to it by the federal government. 

After helping to secure another $4 million payment for Swain County last year, Tillis said the Department of Interior would pay out the settlement funds to Swain County sometime this year. 

The $35.2 million was included as a part of Secretary Ryan Zinke’s spending plan for 2018 construction projects at the National Park Service.

In the early 1940s, the federal government flooded several communities in Swain County to build Fontana Dam to make electricity during World War II. In 1943, the federal government promised to rebuild the 30-mile North Shore Road that was also flooded. The federal government failed to deliver on that promise for more than six decades. Though the county commissioners fought hard to get the road rebuilt, they finally compromised and agreed to a cash settlement of $52 million in 2007. 

In 2010 the Department of Interior, Swain County, the Tennessee Valley Authority, and the State of North Carolina entered into a Memorandum of Agreement to “settle any and all claims under the 1943 Agreement” by Dec. 31, 2020. Swain County received a $12.8 million payment as a first-time installment in 2010, but didn’t see another dime until the $4 million payment was made last year.

With the settlement expiration quickly approaching, Swain County filed a lawsuit against the Department of Interior for breach of contract in an attempt to force the federal government to meet its obligation in time. The county spent over $100,000 in legal fees and the lawsuit was dismissed since the government still had a few years to pay out the settlement, but the litigation did seem to help move things along in Washington. 

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“Today is the beginning of the end for Swain County’s long fight to receive the funds it is owed from the North Shore Road settlement,” Sen. Tillis said in a press release. “The Department of Interior’s commitment to reimburse the $35.2 million this year and make good on the promise to repay Swain County for the damage caused when the federal government flooded its communities is great news for the people who have been affected. I want to thank Secretary Zinke for making this a priority and I look forward to working with the Administration and my colleagues to ensure Swain County receives the money swiftly.”

“One of my top priorities as your Secretary of the Interior is making sure the federal government is a good neighbor and a good land manager for federal lands like national parks and battlefields. Making sure Swain County received the funds from the Department of the Interior was key,” Zinke said in a press release. “Senator Tillis made sure this project did not get lost in the paperwork. I’m grateful for their tenacity on behalf of North Carolina.”

“I cannot tell you how relieved and thrilled I am at the latest development,” said Rep. Mike Clamptt, R-Bryson City. “Sen. Tillis had shown genuine leadership, and had been a real advocate and partner in getting this done. My personal thanks especially to Senator Tillis and Secretary Zinke for their role in this important endeavor.”

The settlement money is sitting in a trust fund managed by the N.C. Treasury Department and the county government can only access the interest that accrues on the amount each year. The amount, which has been fluctuating around $200,000 to $300,000 a year, goes into the county’s general fund each year. However, with the full settlement amount coming in, the interest will be much higher, which will give Swain County more budget stability and allow the commissioners to complete more capital improvement projects in the future. 

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