The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) has named Goforth Creek in Polk County, Tn., as one of its “Top Ten Endangered Places” in the South for 2013. WaysSouth, an organization "promoting responsible transportation decisions in Appalachia," said it "supports SELC’s recognition of this special place, which is located in the Ocoee River Gorge near Ducktown, Tn.
WaysSouth said the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) "is planning to blast a major new highway through the Cherokee National Forest which would destroy Goforth Creek’s recreational value and pristine waters.
By TDOT’s own estimate, this new highway would cost a billion dollars, and it isn’t necessary to meet the area’s transportation needs."
“We encourage TDOT to make smart improvements to the existing U.S. Highway 64—the environmentally and fiscally responsible solution,” said Melanie Mayes, WaysSouth’s chairperson.
She said, "The Ocoee Gorge is an irreplaceable recreational resource and an important economic driver in Southeast Tennessee. The forest, streams, and wilderness in the Ocoee Gorge are special, and they are the lifeblood of Polk County’s tourism economy. And in the Ocoee gorge, only Goforth Creek allows recreational access to hiking, trout fishing, camping, wading, picnicking, wildlife watching, and broad vistas of the river canyon. Both locals and tourists enjoy the easy access to this unique area.
"Goforth Creek is threatened by an outdated and unneeded plan to build a new major highway through the Cherokee National Forest. Known as Corridor K, the highway is a 1960s-era plan to build a chain of highways between Chattanooga and Asheville. But the remaining portions of the project, including the segment threatening Goforth Creek, aren’t necessary: TDOT recently acknowledged that a 2-lane road can handle projected traffic for the next 30 years, a decision which opens the door to making smart improvements to the existing road.
"TDOT already has the funds to make these smart improvements to U.S. 64 ($273 million in earmarked federal funds). Building a new highway, however, would quadruple the cost, and any additional money spent must be taken away from Tennessee’s other, more pressing projects. As a Smart Growth America report found last August, Tennessee has nine times more road projects than it has funding. Regarding another project with a similar pricetag, TDOT Commissioner John Schroer wrote in the Memphis Commercial Appeal that spending so much on a single project, 'regardless of its location,' would be 'downright irresponsible and potentially dangerous.'
"In addition, while improvements to the new road could be made without delay, the new highway would take 25-30 years to construct after ground is broken, and anyone hoping to use the highway to commute would be retired before it was finished. We at WaysSouth hope TDOT will make the responsible decision and put its energy into fixing the roads we have, not building new roads we don’t need.
”The alternative—pressing ahead with this unnecessary project—is just too destructive. The impacts to the area’s streams, wildlife, and recreation cannot be justified. In addition to the obvious impacts of a new highway footprint, the area contains “hot rock” formations which drain sulfuric acid to streams when they are disturbed. The road would also be a major new barrier to wildlife movement up and down the main Appalachian mountain chain, affecting sportsmen in Tennessee and North Georgia. And Goforth Creek, which is in the crosshairs of the new highway, would be lost forever.
"For years, WaysSouth has advocated for a reasonable alternative that would improve the current road through the Ocoee Gorge, meeting transportation and safety needs with the least environmental cost. Unfortunately, TDOT continues to put its energy, and taxpayer dollars, into a new highway that would needlessly destroy our public lands and waters—an environmental and economic pricetag that Tennessee simply can’t afford."