County Says U.S. Reneged on Promise to Build Road

     (CN) – A North Carolina county claims in court the Interior Department and National Parks Service failed to make good on its obligation to build a critical road connecting it to isolated communities on the shore of a man-made lake.
     Fontana Lake is reservoir impounded by the Fontana dam on the Little Tennessee River in Swain and Graham counties in North Carolina. The lake forms part of the southern border of Great Smokey Mountains National Park and the northern border of par of the Nantahala National Forest.
     When lake levels are normal, the lake provides access to some of the more remote portions of the national park. However, water levels in the lake fluctuate significantly, and such access to the park isn’t always available.
     Further, the creation of the lake led to the immediate destruction of a number of towns, including Proctor and Judson, North Carolina, which are now under water, and the isolation of others.
     In a complaint filed the Court of Federal Claims, Swain County says that in 1943, shortly after the Tennessee Valley Authority created the lake, the federal government committed in writing to building an access road to it.
     However, the county says, the government made very little progress on the road over the ensuing three decades building only seven miles of a planned 31 miles and eventually “stopped work altogether.”
     Swain County eventually sued the government, and in 2010, it entered into a settlement agreement in which the Interior Department in which the agency agreed to pay county $12.8 million right away to compensate it for the road not being building, and another $39.2 million later, subject to Congressional appropriations.
     “Implicit in the 2010 Agreement was that DOI and NPS would make good faith efforts to obtain the promised funds. However, DOI and NPS have failed even to request sufficient appropriations from Congress, virtually assuring that the government will no meets its commitment prior to expiration of the 2010 agreement,” the complaint says.
     Swain County claims it recently learned the federal agency knew when they signed the settlement agreement that it would never fully be implemented.
     “All of the government’s broken promises and foot-dragging for the better part of a century is a great injustice to the County’s residents,” the complaint says. “And, NPS’s failure even to request sufficient funds constitutes a breach of its contractual duty to cooperate with Swain County in fulfilling the 2010 Agreement …”
     “For over seventy-three years, the citizens of Swain County have endured the devastating economic effects of TVA’s construction of the Fontana Dam, which in 1942 resulted in the creation of Lake Fontana, the flooding of many miles of road and property, and the isolation of residents located on the north shore of the lake from the rest of the region. While construction of the dam may have been necessary to support the World War II effort, it resulted in economic damage to an already depressed area,” the complaint continues.
     The county seeks immediate payment of the outstanding $39.2 million owed on claims of failure to cooperate; breach of implied duty of good faith and fair dealing; and breach of contract.
     Swain County is represented by C. Peter Dungan of Hogan Lovells US LLP in Washington, D.C.
     A representative of the Interior Department declined to comment on pending litigation.

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