February 6, 2010
Bob Miller, (865) 436-1207
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced today that a settlement has been reached in a dispute begun in 1943 over a proposed 34-mile stretch of road through Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Under the terms of the agreement signed today by the Department of the Interior, Swain County, North Carolina, and Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), the Department of the Interior will pay up to $52 million into a trust fund established for the County.
“It is not often one can end a 67-year-old controversy with a stroke of a pen, but that is exactly what we are doing,” Salazar said. “The federal government is providing a fair settlement to the people of Swain County while ensuring the protection of Great Smoky Mountain National Park.”
Salazar noted that the settlement is good for the people of Swain County because it generates much needed revenue; good for the department, because it protects the one of America’s most treasured parks; and good for the American taxpayers, since building the road would have cost several times more than the settlement.
National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis expressed strong support for the action that was accomplished without any impact on the Park Service’s budget. Congressman Heath Shuler (D-NC) also commended the Obama Administration for their leadership. “This settlement will bring much-needed resources to Swain County for decades to come,” said Shuler. “The interest on these funds alone will greatly increase Swain’s annual budget and will help the commissioners in their efforts to create jobs, invest in Swain County schools, and improve the county’s infrastructure.”
In 1943, the Department of the Interior, the State of North Carolina, Swain County North Carolina, and the TVA signed an agreement to provide for replacement of a 34-mile stretch of NC288 flooded during construction of the Fontana Dam and Reservoir. Completion of an alternate road was contingent upon Congressional funding.
In the 1960’s, the National Park Service constructed approximately 7 miles of the road before abandoning the effort due to environmental impacts and engineering problems.
Congress appropriated additional funds in 2001, triggering a National Environmental Policy Act analysis of several options including completion of the road or a monetary settlement. The Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), released in January 2006, stated that the Environmentally Preferred Alternative was to resolve the 1943 Agreement through payment of a monetary settlement in lieu of any further construction. Over 76,000 comments were received on the DEIS with the vast majority received via emails and faxes generated by conservation groups opposed to the road. Public meetings to develop the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) began in February 2003. On October 2, 2007, the Park Service published the FEIS, which identified the monetary settlement as the preferred alternative. The Park Service issued a Record of Decision (ROD) on April 8, 2008, selecting the monetary settlement to Swain County as the National Park Service’s Agency Preferred Alternative.
Since the beginning of the EIS process two of the four parties to the 1943 Agreement – the Swain County Commission and the Governor of North Carolina – expressed support for a monetary settlement in lieu of the road. TVA agreed that the NPS identified the correct Environmentally Preferred Alternative but did not support any agency alternative.