National Park Officials Plan ’Road to Nowhere’ Meetings

Mon March 01, 2004 - Southeast Edition

KNOXVILLE, TN (AP) Smoky Mountains National Park officials are looking for yet more comment on the controversial “Road to Nowhere,” in hopes of narrowing down a long list of alternatives aimed at settling the decades-old debate.

A third round of meetings has been set, following up on meetings attended by hundreds and 3,800 written comments.

In 1943, when Fontana Dam was being built, federal officials promised residents who had to leave the area that it would build a road along the north shore of the new lake that was created by the dam.

But only seven miles were built before construction was halted in 1970 due to high costs and environmental concerns. The road now dead-ends just west of Byrson City, NC, inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Locals, some who have to take boats to visit old grave sites of relatives, want the federal government to live up to its promise to build the road.

But others say a pristine part of the park shouldn’t be ruined with a road, which would cost an estimated $37.5 million.

The road debate, long simmering, came to the surface again after Rep. Charles Taylor, R-NC, included $16 million to finish the road in legislation a few years ago.

So far, the Park Service says it has identified six alternatives it wants to further study and three it wants to shelve. The agency said more public comment is needed at this point to cut more alternatives, or perhaps add more.

One of the preferred alternatives calls for not building the road but providing transportation across the lake for annual cemetery visits.

Another proposes paying area residents in Swain County $52 million.

Other alternatives would build a portion of the road to a visitors’ center or build a 27.4-mile corridor from the Lake View Road tunnel following the lake’s northern shore to the dam area. Other plans call for various lengths of roads, connecting in from other area roads.

“The potential benefits and impacts of the alternatives that survive this stage of planning will be studies in detail,” said acting Park Superintendent Philip A. Francis.

He said a fifth, and perhaps final, set of meetings will be held late in 2004 to present the Draft Environment Impact Statement and the preferred alternative.