« PreviousContinue »
Little by little Swain County land has been taken. Starting in 1928 there are several tracts of land that were acquired for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park which now holds 216,659 acres of Swain County land.
Then in 1931, the Court of Appeals held that Swain County could no longer levy taxes upon the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians, which took another 29,405 acres.
In 1942, the Tennessee Valley Authority started acquiring more of Swain County lands. They now own 7,368 acres of land.
Then the Federal Government has acquired 21,179 acres for the National Forest Service.
Over and over again they are stripping the tax base. So, now Swain County is left with only 66,220 acres, or 16 percent of the original tax base of 339,200 acres.
This road would turn the traffic route through Bryson City, and it would help the tourists and help the county to get more jobs for the people. We live in a poverty stricken area in our county. It is the second largest unemployment in the State of North Carolina, which is 34 percent in December 1995.
Each year the budget of the county grows while the tax base goes away, and a cash settlement to Swain County would relieve the county of an annual bond payment to the Federal Government for the schools of $530,000 per year. This payment is made to the Government each year without fail. We fulfilled the county's promise to the Federal Government to pay this, and we will be paying this for 20 years to the Government. Swain County has fulfilled their promise to the Government, and we would like to see the Government fulfill its promise to Swain County.
Now, there have been a lot of people here today to testify, and they will probably be telling you what is good for Swain County. A lot of those people have never been in Swain County. They know nothing about Swain County. Being a commissioner in Swain County with a 16 percent tax base—and the other three commissioners here would vouch for that you have a hard time trying to fulfill your obligations to the citizens in Swain County. If we had this settlement with the Government, we could pay off the schools and we could have some money to operate the county on.
This road would put every bit of the tourists right in Swain County there. There would be people building more motels, cafes, and everything, and it would put a lot of people to work. I thank you, sir. Senator Kyl. Thank you very much for your testimony.
Again, coming from a State that, I can think of one situation where we had to get land for a school. The county had 3 percent land privately owned. It is a little tough for a property tax base for the school system. So, I recognize the problem you have stated.
I Now, Ms. Hogue, do you want to go next? Ms. HOGUE. Yes, sir. Senator KYL. All right. STATEMENT OF LINDA HOGUE, CHAIRMAN, NORTH SHORE
ROAD ASSOCIATION, BRYSON CITY, NC Ms. HOGUE. Mr. Chairman and members of this committee, my name is Linda Hogue. I am the chairman of the North Shore Road Association and a native of Swain County, North Carolina. I am also a former member of the Swain County Economic Development Commission where I served for 6 years.
I would like to express my appreciation to the members of this committee and for your invitation to speak and express my strong support for the passage of S. 987, the Swain County Settlement Act of 1995.
In 1943, the U.S. Government signed a contract with the people of Swain County committing the Government to construct a road from Bryson City, North Carolina to Deals Gap, Tennessee. The construction of this road was in partial consideration of the takeover by the Federal Government of over 44,000 acres of land owned by the residents of Swain County. This contract was signed by Interior Secretary Harold Ickes.
Since 1943, the people of Swain County have eagerly awaited action by the United States to honor this commitment. Unfortunately, it has not been fulfilled and the people's trust in the integ--rity of the Federal Government is at best strained.
In 1943, the people of Swain County were assured that a road would be built improving the lifestyle of the area through an increase in tourism and economic activity. The people relied upon these representations as exemplified by an article contained in the Bryson City Times on August 5, 1943 which stated: “Anyone with the smallest amount of imagination can visualize what a road of this kind will mean to Bryson City. When this highway is built by the Park Service—and we feel confidently they will soon after the war—there is nothing that can keep Bryson City from becoming the tourist center of Eastern America."
Notwithstanding the commitment of the United States, the road has not been built, and Bryson City has not become the tourist center of eastern America. Rather, Swain County regularly has an unemployment rate of over 20 percent. Over 80 percent of our county is owned by the Federal Government, and we have little tax base left. Many of our young people must now leave the county in order to find employment. In short, while Swain County is the second largest county in land mass in North Carolina, the Federal Government has left the county with minimal resources from which to support our people.
The potential of the road to the economic well-being of Swain County is critical to a complete understanding of this bill. We all agree that the Great Smoky Mountains National Park should managed in such a way as to protect its beauty for the people of this country. We believe, however, that that can be done without starying the people of Swain County in the process.
As you may know, part of the park is located in Tennessee where economic activity is booming. The difference between the Tennessee and the North Carolina sides, however, is like night and day. It is time that this huge disparity be addressed because Swain County is slowly dying. If we are to survive, we must be given those things to which we are entitled. This is not an entitlement made in an election year atmosphere, but rather it is a written contract signed by the U.S. Government.
When the Department of the Interior took our property in 1943, it did so with the commitment that a road would be built. This
road would permit park visitors direct access to Bryson City and would permit businesses in our area to grow and prosper. I say this not because I stand to benefit financially from the prosperity that it will bring to the county, but rather from my long-held belief that the people of Swain County, and especially its young people, deserve the right to earn a living in the area in which they were born and raised. As a schoolteacher for 14 years, this is very important to me.
The people of Swain County are not asking for a great deal. All we ask is that the U.S. Government honor its commitment. In other words, we believe the integrity of the U.S. Government is at issue. The people of Swain County would rather have kept their property and raised their families in the area that they called home. In leaving, however, the people were assured through the 1943 agreement that the Federal Government would construct a dustless road not less than 20 feet wide.
Much to our dismay, the Federal Government has not complied with its commitment. Thus, to date the United States stands alone as the people of Swain County have honored their obligations under the agreement.
To those who oppose this bill in the name of environmentalism, I would point out that their professed concern over the presence of anakeesta rock in the area is overstated. According to publications of the National Park Service, anakeesta rock is found throughout the park in existing road banks and ditch lines and in the Pigeon River in Tennessee. Despite this fact, it is only completion of the North Shore Road that allegedly presents a problem. In short, I believe that the anakeesta rock is only being used as a means to stop the progress of the road.
It is now up to the United States to close a wound that has been festering for over 50 years. In short, enough is enough. Over 50 years has now lapsed since Mr. Ickes, acting on behalf of the United States, gave his word that the North Shore Road would be built. It is time to honor this commitment and fulfill the U.S.'s moral and legal obligation to the people of Swain County. Therefore, I urge this subcommittee to pass S. 987.
CEMETERY ASSOCIATION, BRYSON CITY, NC Ms. VANCE. Mr. Chairman and distinguished members of this subcommittee, my name is Helen Vance, and I am chairman of the North Shore Cemetery Association and a native of Swain County, North Carolina. I would like to express my sincere appreciation to the members of this committee for your invitation to speak before this body and to express my strong support for the passage of S. 987, the Swain County Settlement Act of 1995.
I was born in Proctor, North Carolina, which is now part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. My family owned a farm on lower Hazel Creek in 1832. They farmed the same piece of land for over 112 years in this wilderness. They were proud of their family and the area in which they lived. Our pride in this area was strong and continues through this day even though we were forced from our homes in 1944.
During our residence on the north shore, a number of our ancestors died and were buried in the cemeteries located throughout the area, and they are in the area from below Proctor all the way up to Forney and Noland Creek which is about a 25 mile spread. Many of these people served in the U.S. armed services and their graves are marked by military tombstones.
In 1943, when the time came to decide whether to move those graves to a different location, my family like many others were contacted by the Tennessee Valley Authority and requested to sign statements indicating whether we wished to have our ancestors removed or remain in the original site. At that time we received a letter which stated in part: “The construction of Fontana Dam necessitates flooding of the road leading to the Proctor Cemetery located in Swain County, North Carolina, and to reach this cemetery in the future it will be necessary to walk a considerable distance until a road is constructed in the vicinity of the cemetery, which is proposed to be completed after the war has ended."
The promise of the Government did not end there, however. When I was 16 years old, I stood beside my farther in our front yard when he was told by a representative that we could go back by road, and so we need not worry. And this was a promise, and how happy my father was at this time. He said a road would be built, and I remember to this day how happy he was to know that his family could go back to visit their family cemeteries and their graves and graves which contain my brother, my aunt, two sets of grandparents, and a great-great grandfather and grandmother.
Suffice it to say that, when deciding whether to leave our ancestors in this original grave site, we relied on the U.S. Government and their promise to construct a road to permit us reasonable access back to our families graves. Moreover, many of us, in reliance
, upon the integrity of the Federal Government and its unconditional promise to construct a road in compliance with the 1943 agreement, decided not to remove the graves from their original locations. We wanted them left there. We believed the United States when it stated in writing that a road would be constructed after
Now, that war in question, which was World War II, is over but our war remains. After 53 years, we await action by the United States to comply with its promise, its commitment, to permit us reasonable access to the graves of ancestors. Rather than having such access, we have been forced to carry military tombstones for 6 miles in order to place them at the graves of family members.
The gravestones of Appalachia are the most accurate remaining artifactual evidence of the people who settled, lived, and died in the mountains. Because most of them were created by family members, they clearly mirror the culture's educational levels, artistry, emotions, religion, and exposure to or isolation from the popular styles within the dominant culture. No other artifact is accessible to all mountain people. Everyone with mountain roots has ancestors buried in the mountains. Most are represented by gravestones containing not only their names and their dates of birth and death, but excellent personal expressions of close family members who condensed a lifetime of feelings into their portrayals on these stones.
You will recall that I previously referred to a statement by a TVA representative that a road would be built. At that time my brothers were away serving in the military. In many cases like this one, it was their land that was taken by the Government. Those of us that remained, the elderly and the children, would never have believed that the United States, the greatest country in the world, would renege on its promise to build such a road. Today, however, we believe it, as the road remains unbuilt.
A nation is only as good as its willingness to honor its commitments. I believe in the greatness of this country and its people. I must confess, however, that this episode has broken my belief in the honesty and integrity of our Federal Government. Until the United States honors its commitment to the people of Swain County, I do not believe that my feelings are misplaced.
Getting back to a question about our access to our cemeteries, no later than this year, 1996, there were articles in the paper stating that they were spending too much money for so few people to go back to their cemeteries. To me that is a threat to our having annual trips across Fontana Lake to our cemeteries.
Not only that, how many times can we go a cemetery? One time a year. We have people that came from Oregon this year, but they missed the declaration on homecoming. So, did not get to go unless they pay about $50 and go down and rent a boat and then walk to the cemetery. Some of them are 6 miles. Some are 9 miles. Some are 2. Some are a quarter of a mile. But if they go any other time, they go at their own expense and walk.
We do not have any assurance because it was no later than this year that two different articles came out stating that we might not have access, that they were spending too much money for so few people.
Senator Kyl. Thank you, Ms. Vance. I am going to want to ask you some questions about how it is that people make the arrangements to visit the cemeteries.
Ms. VANCE. Okay.
We welcome Charles Taylor to the panel. He has been able to return from the House of Representatives, and we welcome him to the panel as well.
STATEMENT OF JOHN GEORGE, ANGWIN, CA Mr. GEORGE, Mr. Chairman and distinguished members of this subcommittee, my name is John George, and I teach video production at Pacific Union College in Angwin, California.
I first heard of what I call the Road to Nowhere story in 1990 while working as a reporter for WSPA Television, a CBS affiliate in Spartanberg, South Carolina. In 1991, I was given an assignment to do a 1-minute package about this controversial issue. While fulfilling my assignment, I could see a story far bigger than a 60-second package could encompass. The more I dug, the more fascinating the story became.