For immediate release, August 24, 2005

About 600 area residents recently attended public meetings in Murphy, North Carolina, and Cleveland, Georgia, to raise questions and learn more about the proposed Interstate highway that would cut through the mountains of Southern Appalachia.

Big turnouts are testament to the deep concern the proposed Interstate 3 is generating in this area, said Elizabeth Wells, chairperson of the Stop I-3 Coalition.

“These are our neighbors and friends, hard-working, salt-of-the-earth kind of people who do not understand why our government wants to push such a huge, destructive roadway through areas that neither want nor need it,” she said. The proposed I-3 would cut through the mountains, inevitably, on its way from Savannah to Knoxville.

The program in Cleveland Tuesday evening, for example, included testimony from a panel of southeastern residents and experts on the environmental, economic, archeological and nuclear transport impacts of the proposed road, which would clear-cut a swath of Southern Appalachia about three and one-third football fields wide.

Elected state representatives at both meetings, State Sen. John Snow in North Carolina and Rep. Charles Jenkins in Georgia, also voiced strong opposition to the road.

Tharon Johnson, representing U.S. Rep. John Barrow from Georgia’s 12th District, was the only Congressional representative at the meeting in Cleveland on Tuesday. By contrast, North Carolina’s two U.S. Senators and Rep. Charles Taylor sent spokesmen to the meeting in Hayesville.

Barrow supports construction of I-3 from Savannah to Augusta, but not north of Augusta, Johnson said. Barrow clearly understands the difficulties of trying to put an Interstate through the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains, he said. Barrow won election last year over Max Burns, who, along with former U.S. Sen. Zell Miller, was the original architect of the I-3 plans.

The Georgia Congressmen pushing the hardest for the road, Rep. Charlie Norwood, and U.S. Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, were not to be seen at either meeting. Isakson did respond with a letter read to the assembled crowd in Cleveland.

Dr. Wells explained that “Congressman Barrow’s office has by far been the most cooperative in sharing information and working with us on the I-3 issue. I look forward to being able to establish similar relationships with other senators and representatives.”

By contrast, one of the main proponents pushing for this road, U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood, is going before small groups, as he did with Habersham County officials last week, alleging that unnamed “fringe groups” were “out there scaring your constituents” with misinformation.

“From the beginning, the Stop I-3 Coalition has organized to educate ourselves and the public on the numerous issues surrounding this project,” Wells said. “If Mr. Norwood feels that citizens of a free nation examining the environmental, economic, cultural, historical and archaeological impacts as well as the nuclear transport issues of an interstate through the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains is inappropriate or designed to scare people, we have a long way to go to find grounds for dialogue.”

“We wonder why Mr. Norwood views the likes of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the Clayton Woman’s Club and the Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper as out of the mainstream,” she added. These groups are among the more than 16 community and conservation groups that have come forward in support of the Stop I-3 Coalition. (Click here for a complete list of supporting organizations)

The hundreds of people in attendance at the public hearings in Murphy and Cleveland included farmers, veterans, business owners, retirees, preachers, professionals, builders and many homeowners who do not want to see the mountains ruined.

Wells concluded: “The two real questions to be asked are: Who wants this interstate and why? How can the democratic process possibly work unless everyone involved is willing to come to the table to listen and share information? Especially someone who has been elected to the title of ‘U.S. Representative’.”