Going Nowhereâ Slowly

The end of a perfectly awful idea Loonies at the Gate


The Road to Nowhere is finally just that. It's going nowhere at last. Hallelujah.

Less popularly referred to as the North Shore Road , it was promised to Swain County, N.C., in 1943, when the Tennessee Valley Authority imponded Fontana Lake for hydroelectric power and flood-control purposes. The federal government agreed to build the road to provide access to cemeteries along the north shore of the lake, and TVA used regularly scheduled boats and all-terrain vehicles to give people that access in the interim.

The road was begun more than 60 years ago, but never finished. It took a brutal route through rugged terrain in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, heading from Bryson City toward U.S. 129 near the Fontana Dam and destroying beautiful park wilderness in the process. Cost estimates skyrocketed. From a few million dollars at the outset, the projected cost of completion soared to $100 million, then $300 million, and U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander's latest estimate was $600 million. Completion would take at least 15 years, according to engineers, the route to be traversed is so rocky and irregular.

In the meantime, Swain County was offered $52 million to convince its constituents to forget the road, and the county commissioners there voted to accept the money, even though Republican Congressman Charles Taylor was relentlessly campaigning to get the road, within his district, built. Nothing happened.

Last year, facing evidence of corruption, Taylor was dumped by the district electorate in favor of Democrat Heath Shuler, the former UT and NFL quarterback who is a charter member of the Friends of the Smokies organization, a group that has contributed mightily to improvements and preservation in and around the park.

With the entire relevant congressional delegation finally opposed to the road, the National Park Service, having reviewed an exhaustive environmental impact study and statement, recommends that the road be left unfinished and the Swain Countians compensated. The final decision will be left up to the Secretary of the Interior, but there's little doubt the secretary will follow the NPS recommendation.

Sen. Alexander testified against the road in 1985 when he was governor of Tennessee. Now, in the light of the Park Service's EIS and recommendation, Alexander is obviously pleased. â“This dispute has been going on long enough,â” he says. He has a strong ally in the person of Congressman Shuler, who serves as an environmentalist guardian along the southern border of the Smokies Park.

Alexander says he and others in Congress will introduce legislation to present the people of Swain County with a $7 million down payment on the money they are owed. That money is from an excess budgeted for the project's EIS Appropriation. The other $45 million will come in a later budget.

The federal commitment to maintain access to the cemeteries via boat and all-terrain vehicle should be honored, but the earlier completed segment of roadway   ought to be bulldozed and that part of the park restored to its natural state.

This time, the people in clown garb and makeup were the seriously sane ones. They showed up, among about 200 counter-protesters, when 30 or so self-described neo-Nazis gathered outside the old Knox County Courthouse last Saturday. Perfect. The little Nazified pack came to town to protest the fact that mainline news media have not covered the slayings here last January of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom as anti-white hate crimes.

A quick review of the website of the Vanguard News Network, which carries the commentary of white supremacists from across the country and was the main organ of communication among the followers of one Alex Linder, the leader of the hate-crime hollerers, shows that it may be incomplete to think of them as plain old Nazis. From their postings on the web, they represent lots of different lines of political and personal bigotry. There are anti-Christians , anti-feminists, anti-gays, anti-pacifists, anti-immigrants.â You name it, and some of them are probably agin' it. Mainly, though, they all seem to hate African-Americans and Jews, so maybe they are comfortable with the Nazi label.

Linder, desperate for media attention, got himself arrested at the May 27 rally. Free under $4,500 bond, Linder, who gives an address in Missouri, is appealing to the American Civil Liberties Union to help represent him. Charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, assaulting an officer, and vandalism, Linder is petitioning to get ACLU assistance by asserting that his right to free speech was violated. He had not recorded on line an ACLU response as we went to press.

He was free to speak at the rally, but not to enter a police-designated neutral zone between the racial bigots and the counter-protesters that was established to prevent physical clashes.

It appears that the message of â“outside agitators,â” if not their temper and tone, has changed in Tennessee since the civil rights struggles of the early 1960s. Better we stay on the side of racial equality and leave the bigots to agitate among themselves. They surely will keep posting pictures of lynchings and such without much encouragement. So don't give them any.


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