Shuler, a native of the county, has called the road a taxpayer boondoggle and environmentally insensitive.
Below is the text of the letter Shuler and his fellow lawmakers delivered March 28 to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne.
— Hal L. Millard, staff writer
The Honorable Dirk Kempthorne
U.S. Department of the Interior
1849 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20240
Dear Mr. Secretary:
Considering the significant environmental and economic costs associated with building the North Shore Road—or the so-called “Road to Nowhere” through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park—we ask that you begin immediately to work with us to provide a cash settlement to the citizens of Swain County, North Carolina, rather than further constructing the road.
We recommend these three steps:
First, within the next 90 days, the National Park Service's Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) should endorse a cash settlement to Swain County instead of any further construction on the North Shore Road.
Second, upon completion of the EIS, the Administration should support legislation that will be introduced in Congress to reprogram the funds remaining from those originally appropriated for the EIS, currently about $6 million, and give those funds to Swain County as the first installment of the settlement.
Third, in January 2008, as a part of its fiscal year 2009 budget request to Congress, the Administration should include in its budget the next installment of the full cash settlement to Swain County. This funding should come from outside the National Park Service budget in the form of a special request.
The United States made a commitment to Swain County in 1943, when it flooded a highway in connection with the creation of the Fontana Dam, to build a new road through what had become the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The U.S. Supreme Court, however, held in 1946 that there is no legal obligation to satisfy that commitment by building another road. A cash settlement instead of a road is precisely the kind of "common sense adjustment" that the Supreme Court envisioned.
A road through the Park would damage the largest and most pristine wilderness area in the eastern United States. Such a road would cost at least $600 million, more than 75 times the annual roads budget of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In addition, a good highway now exists outside the Park between Bryson City and Fontana.
This sort of settlement has been recommended by the elected Swain County Commission and the governors of North Carolina and Tennessee, and is supported by the undersigned members of the North Carolina and Tennessee congressional delegations.
After over 60 years of controversy, it is time to bring this matter to a close. The solution we are endorsing will protect America's most visited national park, save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, and fulfill a promise to the citizens of Swain County, North Carolina.
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