B&B, On the Water, and the I-3 Boondoggle

We’ve had a few cold days and a few mild ones, and it has been rather windy. The severe weather mostly missed Fannin, although there was tornado damage in Tennessee and in Murphy, North Carolina. I still haven’t seen anything native in bloom, but my sarvis is budded out nicely, and it may bloom later this week. If it does, it would be early. It bloomed last year on March 18.

There is a new sign in front of the Blue Ridge Bed & Breakfast (across from the City Hall and next to the old post office). The new owners are Rick & Monica Watts. I wish them luck, as this has always been a great place to stay for folks who like the B&B concept.

I went out to look at the lake the other day, and the good news is that it is refilling. I think that if we have some decent rainfall this month that we’ll be set for a good season of swimming and boating. Work continues on some aspects of the dam, but the work on the penstock is done, which means that we should not have to endure another periodic deep draw down for penstock inspection. Joe DiPietro reports in the most recent Georgia Outdoor News that the fishing in the tailrace is rebounding nicely, with some big fish being caught. I’ve been hearing pretty much the same thing, that the situation at this point is better than anyone expected. Hatchery funding has been restored for this year, so the Toccoa will continue to be stocked. However, the exact same proposal for cutting the hatchery budget is on the table for next year, and if the cuts are made, it seems likely that the Toccoa will not be stocked in the future, as the TVA refuses to contribute to the cost.

The feasibility study for the great boondoogle known as I-3, a redundant interstate highway from Savannah to Oak Ridge, Tennessee, has been sent to Congress. I’ve only read the executive summary, but it seems clear that the project is dead, and all of us here in the mountains ought to be glad. There wasn’t much local discussion of the project, as it was thought to be slated to run well east of us. But the map included with the report makes it obvious that we dodged a bullet, because the only route that was considered feasible was one that ran across the foothills of the mountains, either through Blue Ridge and Tellico Plains or through Ellijay and Chatsworth. (There wasn’t much transparency in this process. The tactic of choice among the road builders lately has been to keep quiet about possible routes – or “alignments” – in the hopes of not arousing local opposition.) In this particular case, it appears that we simply lucked out, because as far as I know, no one had any idea that a route was being considered that would so directly affect Blue Ridge and/or Ellijay. This was a bad idea from the get-go, but it seems that we rarely win when we are up against bad ideas that make the road builders money. It was, in other words, a rare victory for the mountains.

I wish I could say the same for another really bad idea, the Corridor K boondoggle. This is a proposal to bypass Hwy 64 in the Ocoee Gorge with a new road to be built almost completely within the Cherokee National Forest. This is a popular idea here locally, especially with people who think it is going to make them filthy rich. But there are so many things wrong with it that it’s hard to shake a stick at them. First, it is perfectly clear that despite assurances to be contrary, the funds do not exist to maintain the existing roadbed of Hwy 64 once the bypass is built. In addition to drawing many tourists, the road provides needed access to to the national forest in Georgia. Second, the route over Brock Mountain has proved unfeasible and talk has turned again to a tunnel, raising the probable price tag from around $380 million to about a billion. That’s for a little over twenty miles of road! And, the new road will – by the Tennessee Department of Transportation’s own estimates – save at most two minutes over the existing road. (That estimate was actually made before the worst bottleneck, the “trucker’s curve,” was fixed.) We can only hope that the eye-popping cost will doom this project, because common sense certainly hasn’t done the trick. (The only real reason the project is still alive is that federal dollars are available to build new roads, but not to improve existing roads. Everyone knows that our transportation infrastructure is crumbling, so it doesn’t make a lot of sense to build new roads that we can’t afford to maintain.) Highway 64 needs additional improvement, but these improvements would be far cheaper and better for our tourism industry than a new road that would destroy thousands of acres of national forest.

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