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  Features:
Bush Wages War on Parks, Wilderness
Dollars Not 'Dozers
  Club Opposes Road Through Smokies, Pushes Cash Settlement
Waking Up from Highway Hangover
Environmental Rules Pay Off
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The Planet
Dollars Not 'Dozers

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 Road.

"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. But the Park 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 September when Governor 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 still contains a lot of wild land. Only a single trans-mountain road crosses the park from North 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 years."

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 number of 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 is a better 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.

Ray Payne

"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 a cash settlement.

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 explains. "If we can convince the Park Service to select the cash payment option as the preferred alternative, it will give a major boost to our effort to effect a payment for Swain County."

" 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 terrain, solitude, habitat, healthy ecosystem, and potential wilderness.

"This is a national issue and it is worth getting mad about," he declares.


Please write a letter to Interior Secretary Gale Norton calling for a cash settlement to Swain County in lieu of the North Shore Road, 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: (202)228-1374; www.edwards.senate.gov. Senator Lamar Alexander, Washington, D.C. 20510; fax: (202)228-3398; alexander.senate.gov.


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