The North Shore Road is proposed to go through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park from Bryson City to Tennessee along the north shore of Lake Fontana. The area was not always backcountry, however. It was once home to mining and logging towns and farming communities until the construction of Lake Fontana to generate hydropower for the World War II effort.
The lake flooded some communities and isolated others by flooding the only road in and out. With a war on, the government could not afford to build a new road on higher ground. So more than 200 families living in the suddenly isolated region were forced to evacuate. The land was ceded to the park service.
At the time, the government promised to rebuild the road. It signed a legal contract pledging to do so, but hasn’t yet. Families who sacrificed their homes for the war effort believe the government should uphold its promise.
What is the cash settlement?
A group of Swain County residents fed up with the long-standing debate developed an idea several years ago for the federal government to pay a cash settlement in lieu of building the road.
Their premise: like it or not, the road will never be built. Congress will never appropriate and the funds, and even if it did, lawsuits by environmental groups would stop it from happening anyway. So they began lobbying for a cash settlement of $52 million for Swain County, an idea that has gained wide popularity.
The $52 million price for a cash settlement is the accumulated interest on the cost of the road. At the time the road was flooded in 1943, the county owed $694,000 for its construction. Even though the road was flooded, the county spent another 30 years paying off the debt on the worthless road. The cash settlement would compensate the county for the loss of the road.