U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows testifies Tuesday with former Rep. Heath Shuler about the Swain County 'Road to Nowhere.' Screenshot from testimony.

Seated beside his congressional predecessor, U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows called on a House sub-committee Tuesday to restore “justice and fairness” to residents of Swain County by releasing funds marked for settlement of the long-standing “Road to Nowhere” dispute.

Meadows, R-N.C., formed an unlikely alliance with former 11th Congressional District Rep. Heath Shuler, a Democrat. Shuler, who represented the district from 2007-13, now works as a lobbyist in Duke Energy’s Washington, D.C. office. Both appeared before the House Sub-committee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation, to urge fellow lawmakers to recommend full authorization to pay $4 million in funds.

The dispute over N.C. 288, commonly known as “The Road to Nowhere” dates back to 1943, when the federal government agreed to build a 35-mile road for Swain County residents in exchange for ceding thousands of acres which would become Fontana Lake and a portion of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The lake and dam would increase power generation capabilities for the Tennessee Valley Authority, and in turn allow factories to enhance efforts for manufacturing products used in the World War II effort.

The road was famously never built. A decades-long dispute over the broken agreement appeared resolved when Swain County accepted a $52 million settlement with the federal government in 2010,. But, since then, only $12.8 million of the settlement has been received.

During the hearing, Meadows and Shuler were seeking a sum of $4 million which had been allocated in 2012, but remains unpaid.

Shuler, a Swain County native, praised the county’s residents’ “dedication” to efforts 70 years ago. In addition, he argued the funds were warranted in light of 83 percent of the entire county now being owned by the federal government, which leaves the county with a property tax base much lower than most.

Shuler said the government was “shortchanging” Swain County.

“There was an authorization in the Appropriations Act of 2012 for $4 million, and through a technicality that money has still not been released to Swain County,” Shuler said. “Swain County has honored its agreement; it’s time for the federal government to do the same.”

Meadows, who is in the second year of his first term and is running for reelection, added that the original cost of building the road was estimated to be $700 million—a far greater sum than the $52 million settlement reached four years ago. He called on his colleagues to pressure the government into paying.

“All (Swain County residents are) wanting is for the federal government to do what they said they would do,” Meadows said.

Seeking government money alongside a Democrat is unlikely to do Meadows any harm in this year’s general election. The congressman is set to face a Democratic challenger, Tom Hill, but is largely expected to win a second term in what is rated a “solid Republican” district.

If House committees agree to recommend the legislation put forward by Meadows to release the funds, the House will then hold a formal vote on a direct spending authorization to transfer them to Swain County.

Watch the full testimony here, as released by Meadows’ office:

YouTube video

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James Harrison is a contributing reporter with Carolina Public Press. Reach him at jharrison@carolinapublicpress.org.

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