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Planet Main
In This Section
PDF July/August 2006
e-mail June 30, 2006
e-mail April 28, 2006


Sewage 101
States Take Lead on Mercury, Global Warming
I Want My MPG
Postcard from Puerto Rico
The Birdman of Baghdad
Advocate for Safe Weapons Disposal Honored
Stop I-3
Family Planning Key to Sustainable Future
Sierra Club Insider
Who We Are
Ken Smokoska
Larry and Vicki Patton
Claudia Hilligoss


Moral Challenge, Tough Choices
Offshore Drilling Moratorium Threatened
Cool Cities Guide
Saving the Au Sable
Native Peoples, Club Unite
Sierra Club Insider
Who We Are
Tom Libby
Marty Peale
Yochi Zakai
Search for a Story
Back Issues

The Planet
Proposed Interstate Would Ravage Southern Appalachians

Stop I-3: Three Sierra Club chapters are fighting a proposed new interstate highway linking Savannah, Georgia, and Knoxville, Tennessee, that would cut through the heart of the wild country near Brasstown Bald, Georgia’s highest peak, pictured above. A shorter interstate highway route from Savannah to Knoxville already exists. Photo by Larry Winslett.

by Julie and Larry Winslett

The Dragon’s Tail. For 30 miles, US Hwy 129 snakes around the western end of The Great Smoky Mountains National Park like a roller coaster. Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest stands a mere stone’s throw to the south. It’s about the worst place imaginable to put an interstate highway, but that’s what Georgia’s Representative Charles Norwood and Senators Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson have proposed. Dubbed I-3, it would extend from Knoxville, Tennessee, to Savannah, Georgia.

Two reasons are given as justification for I-3: to fulfill an economic need for more interstate highways in an area underserved by them and for “national security.” Congress has allotted $1.3 million for a feasibility study and the Georgia 2006 state budget includes $100,000 dollars to promote the road. These expenditures are especially grievous in light of proposed massive cuts to existing essential programs, as well as the fiscal crises faced by Georgia and the nation as a whole.

Three Sierra Club chapters—Georgia, Tennessee, and North Carolina—have joined the fight along with other organizations, taking the position that no route through the sensitive Southern Appalachians of Western North Carolina is acceptable.

Stop I-3 : ?The still-pristine Upper Chattahoochee River, in Georgia’s Chattahoochee National Forest, below, would be subjected to increased pollution from highway runoff if I-3 is built. Photo by Larry Winslett.
Here’s what Ron Jones of the North Georgia Group says: “I-3 would do nothing for national defense. The money could be far better spent to help our military with better equipment and to secure our borders. As for the area being underserved by major highways, a cursory look at a highway map renders this argument ludicrous. I-3 would devastate parts of Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee, some of the most beautiful mountain areas in America. It would destroy scenery, rural communities, and degrade an already stressed environment. The impact on the area’s waterways, the lifeblood of the Southeast (especially the Savannah and Chattahoochee River watersheds), would be incalculable. Air quality would suffer. Danger from nuclear transport between Oakridge and Savannah River Site would also increase.” Georgia Chapter Conservation Chair Kevin Doyle says that the only beneficiaries of the road would be a few rich investors.

One of the biggest concerns about the proposed interstate is its impact on southern Appalachian national forests, specifically the wildlife, water quality, and peace and solitude. As Wayne Jenkins of Georgia Forestwatch puts it: “You just don’t build interstates through the heart of a region’s golden goose.”

The Stop I-3 Coalition has been monitoring the progress of the highway proposal since it was introduced last summer. So far, both the Georgia and North Carolina departments of transportation have declined to lead the study. This leaves the Federal Highway Administration in charge of contracting out and overseeing the feasibility study, which should include public participation as well as participation by every level of government according to the agency’s own guidelines (posted on The most worrisome concern at this point is that the study may proceed without sufficient public participation. In a strongly-worded letter to J. Richard Capka, acting director of the Federal Highway Administration, the Georgia Chapter of the Sierra Club demanded that (1) each affected state department of transportation must participate in the study process; (2) citizens from each state must be placed on the study’s advisory or steering committee; (3) the entire study process must be open and transparent; (4) there must be full public participation at every phase of the study; and (5) all impacts must be addressed, including those on wetlands, publicly-owned lands, rare species and habitats, significant historical, archeological, and recreational resources, and high-quality watersheds and drinking water. Costs associated with overcoming technical challenges, including unstable geology, rugged mountain terrain and acid drainage from acid-producing rock formations must also be considered.

Take Action: Please write your senators and representative and J. Richard Capka, Acting Federal Highway Administration Director, 400 Seventh Street, SW, Washington, DC, 20590, to demand that a complete feasibility study be conducted according to the agency guidelines, which call for full public involvement. We want the concept of an interstate cutting through the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains to be found not feasible as early as possible and the proposal permanently put to rest. If the study is done correctly, we are confident that it will find the project is unneeded, unwanted, and infeasible.

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