RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) Instead of completing a 30-mi. (48 km) “road to nowhere” through Great Smoky Mountains National Park, federal officials said Oct. 2 they favor making a financial settlement to end a dispute over an unfinished road designed to replace a route flooded more than six decades ago.
The recommendation was included in a final environmental impact statement released by the National Park Service and the Federal Highway Administration.
The decision wasn’t unexpected. The park service in May said it would recommend against finishing the road, which would have run from Bryson City to Fontana Dam in far western North Carolina’s Swain County. It was designed to replace one that was flooded in the 1940s when the dam was built.
While the federal government promised to replace it as long as Congress provided the funding, environmental concerns and high costs halted construction in 1972.
Finishing the road, which would have restored overland access to 26 remote cemeteries but run through an undeveloped area of the nation’s most visited national park, would have cost $600 million. Swain County, meanwhile, only requested $52 million to settle the issue.
“My reaction is that’s what we have been looking for for 60 years,” said Glenn Jones, chairman of the county board of commissioners. “This just backs up what they’ve already said.”
The park service has vowed to continue ferrying people across Fontana Lake on designated days to visit the grave sites.
“This is a common sense solution that protects the integrity of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, while also providing Swain County the resources it needs to invest in job creation and schools improvement,” said Rep. Heath Shuler, D-N.C., who has pressed for the settlement since his election to Congress last year.