Feds Finally Pay Off $52M Debt it Owed Small NC County

‘Not rebuilding the road has led to a lot of resentment from Swain County residents …’

Road Nowhere Swain County photo

The Road to Nowhere/Photo by woodleywonderworks (CC)

(Quin Hillyer, Liberty Headlines) Sometimes a “road to nowhere” really ought to be completed – or at least paid for.

Especially if the debt is 75 years old.

That seems to be the guiding principle behind a long-awaited settlement formalized June 30, between the U.S. Department of the Interior and Swain County, North Carolina.

The money pays for the uncompleted portion of a once-existing road destroyed by the federal government in 1943 when the area was flooded to build the Fontana Dam.

The dam was built as part of the energy-producing mission of the Tennessee Valley Authority.

The original North Shore Road was 30 miles long, but, despite its promises, the federal government rebuilt only 7.2 miles of it.

After tunneling under a portion of a mountain and emerging out the other side, the road… just… stopped.

Even after the settlement, the road still will not be finished, due to environmental concerns, but at least the county can use the money in other ways to help mitigate the inconvenience.

The settlement had been set at $52 million years ago, but the feds were very slow in paying, having forked over just $12.8 million until the Trump Administration took office in 2017.

Local leaders said they felt “jerked around.”

Finally, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke pushed out $4 million last year, and then the remaining $35.2 million in one big chunk on June 30.

“Not rebuilding the road has led to a lot of resentment from Swain County residents as they have not been able to access their family homesteads and cemeteries that their ancestors were forced to abandon for the war effort,” reported the Smoky Mountain News. “Many residents wanted the commissioners to hold out for the road to be rebuilt, but the cost-prohibitive and environmentally controversial project just was not going to happen.”

According to the TVA’s own report, “1,311 families, 1,047 graves, and over 60 miles (97 km) of roads had to be relocated. The towns of Fontana, Bushnell, Forney, and Judson were completely inundated.”

To make up for the dislocation, the Park Service has spent summer weekends ferrying residents across Fontana Lake to visit their old family cemeteries.

And area towns even used the oddity of the road to nowhere as a lure for tourists, listing it in its online visitor options.

The state of North Carolina will put the money into a secure account, with the county able to spend the interest from it every year.

Among the potential uses for the money, long-term, are 1) keeping property taxes low; 2) paying paramedics; 3) build a library; 4) or help build a national park campground where the Road to Nowhere ends after its tunnel.

That way, said one local leader, it would “make the Road to Nowhere go to somewhere.”

That’s the whole point here: This once actually was a road that went somewhere, but the feds wiped the “somewhere” off the Earth.

In that way, this is the obverse image of the truly infamous “Bridge to Nowhere” in Alaska that in 2005 became the poster child for the pork-barrel waste of Congress’ Appropriations “earmarks” process.

In that case, the feds wanted to pay for a road to serve very few people; here, the feds failed to rebuild a road to a very real location that the feds themselves ruined.

Sometimes it takes just three quarters of a century for the federal government to meet its commitments.