Great Smoky Mountains National Park Superintendent Dale Ditmanson announced today that the agency has begun drafting the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Project, with a monetary settlement highlighted as the preferred alternative to road construction. The FEIS will be released in September for a 30-day public-comment period. Swain County has asked for a $52 million settlement.
Plans for building the road date back to the 1940s, when the U.S. government promised to replace a road that was flooded during the construction of the Fontana Lake Dam. The National Park Service constructed a few miles of it in the '60s, but it came to a halt due to cost and environmental concerns. (See "The Road Less Traveled," March 8, 2006 Xpress.) Since then, groups like the Southern Environmental Law Center have opposed further construction, highlighting the loss of wildlife habitat and environmental degradation that would result from carving into pristine national forestland. Advocates, meanwhile, insisted that the government should fulfill its promise and continue with the project.
While former Congressman Charles Taylor was a staunch supporter of the project, Rep. Heath Shuler called the road a taxpayer boondoggle and environmentally insensitive.
— Rebecca Bowe, editorial assistant
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