June 16, 2006

The regional planning commission representing seven counties and 16 cities in western North Carolina has come out against federal proposals to punch a new interstate highway through its mountainous, home area.

“Construction of an interstate highway through the rugged terrain of southwestern North Carolina would have a devastating environmental, economic, cultural and aesthetic impact on these mountains, including the Nantahala National Forest and Great Smoky Mountains National Park,” according to the resolution issued by the Southwestern Commission earlier this week.

“The natural beauty of our Southern Appalachian region is the main asset that draws tourism, which feeds our economy,” the resolution said.

The proposed interstate at issue, currently the subject of a Congressionally mandated study, would run from Savannah to Knoxville, via Augusta, Ga., and has largely been pushed by a few representatives from Georgia. Somewhat pointedly, the commission’s resolution points out that “neither the state of North Carolina nor any county in southwestern North Carolina was consulted before the I-3 study legislation was introduced in the U.S. Congress.”

The resolution noted that the preference of western North Carolinians and their elected representatives would be to see “any new federal highway funds” allocated to completion of Appalachian Corridor K .

The commission’s action pleased the Stop I-3 Coalition, a regional organization formed to educate the public to the many problems associated with the proposed highway. “This is excellent news,” said Elizabeth Wells, executive director of the coalition.

Roger Turner of Franklin, N.C., and a member of the Stop I-3 Coalition board of directors, also praised the Southwestern Commission’s action. “We are truly pleased to see local officials in Western North Carolina standing firm against this ruinous road,” he said.

The Stop I-3 Coalition represents a growing confederation of community organizations and conservation groups located in the four-state Appalachian region (see for details.) It is dedicated to stopping an unneeded interstate or any similar highway that it believes would do irreparable harm to mountain economies, forests, farms, and streams, and to rural qualities of life rooted in a strong sense of place.

Elizabeth Wells, (706) 878-2030
Roger Turner, (828) 586-6968