Club Opposes Road Through Smokies,
Pushes Cash Settlement
by Tom Valtin
For nearly 35 years, Ted Snyder has been fighting the North Shore Road, a proposed
37-mile highway through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
|Forty Year Fight: Longtime volunteer leader Ted Snyder and new CLub staffer
Natalie Foster--in front of a larger-than-life Paul Bunyan--rally in Asheville,
North Carolina, outside a Park Swervice hearing on the proposed North Shore
"That road would slice through the largest unroaded tract of mountain
land in the east," says Snyder, former Sierra Club president (1978-1980). "It
would be a major and irreversible piece of damage."
In September, Snyder and Club activists from the Tennessee and North Carolina
Chapters protested against the road at National Park Service hearings in Knoxville,
Tennessee, and Asheville, North Carolina. The Sierra Club supports an alternative
whereby Swain County, North Carolina, where the road would be located, would
receive a cash settlement in lieu of the road.
The highway was originally proposed to compensate Swain County for an
old road that was drowned by the construction of Fontana Dam during WWII.
Service ran into construction problems after a mere seven miles of the
new road were built, and engineers and scientists concluded that "continuation
of such damage to natural park values is indefensible from either the
standpoint of conservation or visitor use."
We've developed critical energy in favor of the cash settlement," says Natalie
Foster of the Club's Atlanta office. "Senators Edwards (D-N.C.)
and Alexander (R-Tenn.) both support it, and we made great headway in
Mike Easley (D-N.C.) joined them."
But Representative Charles Taylor (R-N.C), who sits on the House Appropriations
Committee, is determined to build the road. In 2000, he inserted a $16 million
funding rider for the North Shore Road into the Department of Transportation
Appropriations Act. An environmental impact statement (EIS) is now being conducted.
Charlie Taylor has no interest in environmental values or protecting the environment," asserts
Ray Payne, a longtime Club activist and retired engineer from Knoxville who joined
the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club in 1964 and began speaking out against the North
Shore Road the following year. "Taylor's philosophy is "cut,
cut, cut; build, build, build."
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the nation's most-visited
national park, with more than nine million visitors annually, but it
a lot of wild land. Only a single trans-mountain road crosses the park
Carolina to Tennessee, and the Smokies backcountry remains one of the
most bio-diverse places on earth. "This has been a constant battle
with constant new threats," Snyder
says. "I consider it a victory just to have held the line for 35
|Members of the Tennessee and North Carolina Chapters
protest the construction of the North Shore Road.
Snyder was the first to propose a cash settlement. In 1974 he introduced
the idea to the Swain CountyCommissioners, and since then a growing
county residents have endorsed it. "It'sremarkable how local
people have gotten involved, going to meetings and speaking out
against the road," Snyder says. "The
Club has demonstrated that it's not an 'outside organization,'
but one that can cooperate with local residents to achieve mutual goals."
Local involvement has been key," concurs Will Skelton, a Knoxville attorney
and Club leader on the issue. "People in Swain County are
looking at this from a financial perspective, and they see that
a cash settlement
deal all around. It's a win-win situation for the local economy
and the environment."
In 2001, a group called Citizens for the Economic Future of Swain
County endorsed the cash settlement alternative. Based on a study
they commissioned, it was determined
that $52 million would be fair compensation-a third of the cost
of building the road.
"I believe a solid majority of Swain County residents would rather have
payment than the road," says Ray Payne. "The chairman of the Swain
County Commissioners campaigned in favor of the cash settlement and he won with
67 percent of the
vote." And the Board of Aldermen in Bryson City-the Swain
County seat and the largest town in the county-unanimously supports
The EIS now being conducted will include a cash settlement alternative.
The Park Service recently disclosed that of some 1,500 correspondences
it has received
on the issue, fewer than 50 have been in favor of the road.
"The EIS will first be issued as a draft for public comments," Payne
we can convince the Park Service to select the cash payment option
as the preferred alternative, it will give a major boost to our
a payment for
Why have we been fighting tooth and claw for so many years?" Ted Snyder
asks. "It's because of the dismaying, heart-breaking, wanton
destruction of a world-class natural environment. Here we have
a vast mountain
forest, closed canopy, deep folds and finger ridges, smoothed
by a velvet forest.
What the road
builders want to do is slash a permanent scar across that natural
landscape. It would be no different if someone took a sword and
slashed it across
the face of the Mona Lisa. What will be destroyed are natural
healthy ecosystem, and potential wilderness.
"This is a national issue and it is worth getting mad about," he
Please write a letter to Interior Secretary Gale Norton calling
for a cash settlement to Swain County in lieu of the North Shore
and send copies of your letter
to Senators John Edwards (D-N.C.) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.).
Write: Interior Secretary Gale Norton, 1849 C Street, N.W., Washington,
D.C. 20240. Senator John Edwards, Washington, D.C. 20510; fax:
Senator Lamar Alexander, Washington, D.C. 20510; fax: (202)228-3398;
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